It’s come to that time of year when everyone is making lists of their favourite releases of the year. This is always, of course, somewhat arbitrary and completely subjective. Nevertheless, there are certain trends followed by most who make lists, and one such is to preclude albums which have been re-issued. There is good reason for this, as obviously the album is not new, per se.
However, the “new” album from Canadian band Machines Dream, Revisionist History, is absolutely one of my favourite releases this year. So much so, that I very much want to include it in my end of year list – but is it a 2019 release, or a re-release? The lines are seriously blurred, as the two albums which comprise this revised release have been remixed, remastered, resequenced, and in parts re-recorded. Revisionist history, indeed!
Machines Dream is a neo-prog band, which is not a genre I’m particularly fond of. There are certainly more neo-prog bands I don’t like than do, and many just leave me cold. Musically, as with much of this style, obvious influences are Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, and as such the keys play a big part in the sound. Brian Holmes definitely warrants a mention here as so much of the sound and imagery comes from his keyboard playing. I am also reminded of Anathema, and, perhaps strangely, Pearl Jam! I presume classic neo-prog bands such as Marillion have also influenced Machines Dream, but not being familiar with that band, this is not something I can comment on.
As with much of this style of music, melody is favoured over virtuosity. That’s not to say that the band members are not virtuosos, nor that their playing and solos can’t be extravagant and expansive. However, this is definitely Pink Floyd over King Crimson. The band do get to show off their chops more on the delightfully jazzy Improv album, also available from their Bandcamp page. In fact, Improv is possibly my favourite Machines Dream release. You do get hints of this aspect of the band from Josh Norling’s sax, which features on Immunity. Needless to say, I love his contributions.
This new compilation presents Machines Dream’s first two albums, the self-titled debut, and Immunity as the band intended, but were unable to achieve at the time. In particular, the band’s second album, Immunity, is a far more cohesive listen when you consider that its parts were initially spread across three releases. As if that were not enough separation, the title track was split into two when originally released, to bookend the album. The most obvious change, then, is to have those two parts put back together as intended, and this presents an absolutely incredible start to the album, with a 25-minute epic that never outstretches its welcome. Whether or not this is the reason for offering the two albums in reverse chronological order, I’m unsure, but it’s a masterstroke – even if inadvertent!
Immunity now contains all the material that was intended to be on the album, including the tracks that ended up on the 100 Afternoons EP, and on the charity compilation Voices for Hospices. All the bass and drum parts have been re-recorded, as well as some new guitar and keyboard parts. So how does it sound? Well, quite frankly, superb and sublime. I was introduced to Machines Dream through their third album, Black Science, and while these first two albums are not as darkly atmospheric as that album, atmospheric is still an entirely appropriate adjective. Perhaps, even, cinematic.
There is a resigned melancholy that pervades the music, which I absolutely love. Craig West (vocals, bass) provides much of my enjoyment. Craig’s vocals sometimes sound even more in that vein than the music, in a similar way to Roger Waters. Furthermore, he plays a wicked bass, which is nicely placed in the mix. That said, Brian Holmes (keys) also plays bass, so at any one time, I could not be sure just who is playing. The bass, though, has always been one of the first things I hear when listening to music, presumably because I once played the double bass, while in my school years. Old habits die hard. For much the same reason, Ken Coulter (drums) also rates highly, and the rhythm section is tight. Ken is a drummer with a deft touch and plays as well hitting hard as he does playing light.
What the Revisionist History release does show is that Machines Dream have always excelled at creating musical soundscapes that encapture and enrapture the listener, holding interest no matter how short or long the song. The music is also impeccably mastered by Will Geraldo, and is produced by Craig West. I couldn’t be happier that the band has gone to such efforts to release their first two albums as they were intended.
Revisionist History deserves to be in the top realms of people’s End of Year lists. It is easily one of the most rewarding albums released this year, regardless of whether or not it counts as “new”.
Disc One: Immunity
01. Immunity (25:22)
02. Trading Stars for Solitude (5:58)
03. Broken Door (6:02)
04. My Ocean is Electric (4:11)
05. A Poor Turn for the Soul (5:42)
06. Jupiter (3:37)
07. Battersea Transcendental (7:33)
08. A Stone’s Throw (4:03)
Time – 62:30
Disc Two: Machines Dream
01. Boundaries (4:48)
02. Toronto Skyline (7:59)
03. London by Night (4:54)
04. Unarmed at Sea (7:38)
05. Mad For All Seasons (10:31)
06. Stop Waiting For Miracles (4:14)
07. Locusts (4:23)
08. Colder Rain (5:22)
09. Everyone Says Goodbye (3:58)
10. The Session (11:47)
Time – 65:39
Total Time – 128:09
Craig West – Guitar, Lead Vocals, Bass
Brian Holmes – Keyboards, Bass
Rob Coleman – Lead Guitar (disc 1)
Ken Coulter – Drums
Jake Rendell – Backing Vocals
Josh Norling – Saxophone (disc 1, track 1)
Jennifer Gauvreau – Backing Vocals (disc 1, track 2)
Keith Conway – Guitars (disc 2)
Ed Young – Drums disc 2, track 10)
Record label: Progressive Gears
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 11th March 2019 (original release dates: Machines Dream 2012, Immunity 2014