Illinois-based Seth Knappen is something like a distant cousin to (post-Syd Barrett) Pink Floyd, twice removed (with some DEVO in the gene pool as well). And typing that, I realize I will never get to use that analogy again. Knappen began playing music in the 1990s and has since found himself among a roster of bands (Darling, The Multiple Cat and Driver of the Year if those ring a bell) and creating a number of albums. Time Machines, Living Dead is a two-year project that holds high stakes for Knappen: “I feel that this current album really hits the mark for what I am striving for."First impressions can be deceiving, and the metal music filtered through a Weird-O-Tron vibe is rarely heard again outside the first five minutes of Time Machines, Living Dead. Do you feel bad? Don't. That introduction was cool, but Knappen has many more tricks up his sleeve.
For the most part, the album is a tongue-in-cheek meditation on where space rock came from. Knappen, who blissfully recites lyrics as if auditioning to be an automaton, is one of those seasoned artists who still considers himself an explorer. In most songs he sounds like he's figuring out patterns, rhythms and melody. The message isn't all there, though I imagine it sounds profound, especially with the sometimes baroque compositions Knappen works out. The excellent "Mountain" constantly puts its synth lines through modulation that help give the impression of an uphill climb, and indeed the music rises and the blips and whistles provide pretty little patterns to bring the whole piece together until a steady percussion brings it down. The Sci-fi dial is turned up on the dystopian thriller "Hey Policia,” when a Somaed-up Knappen questions authority amid Close Encounter sound effects and sinister drumming. What makes Time Machines a winner is Knappen never compromises his sound. I know a lot of artists love touting themselves as self-imposed exiles of genre because that gives them an excuse to act like children on their music, or even more depressingly sound the exact same as everybody else, but Knappen keeps his ideals childlike, not childish. The sense of wonder that is dead in all of us right now is present throughout the album. It is strange and comforting, sometimes artificial and creepy, but ultimately rewarding. "Spirit Machine" begins to end the album with optimistic synth work over new wave bass and guitar and humbly bombastic drumming (you know, when it's so mixed out it sounds like an echo rather than a forthright sound). Even the slow parts of the album sound like Knappen has something in store for the listener. That's an important quality for a musician to have, especially if he happens to be something like the distant cousin to (post-Syd Barrett) Pink Floyd, twice removed.
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