Review: Alex Monk - The Safety Machine
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Monk's first vinyl release, 'The Safety Machine' took 2 years to be finished, and whilst certainly ambient in parts, drawing inspiration and tone from Brian Eno for example, it is more a multi-instrumental psychedelic folk-trip of ethereal vocals, jangling guitars, pipe organs, and even mandolin.
On first track 'Masks Survive', Monk's vocals have a deep Bowie-esque quiver as he sings 'watch the atoms as they glow, burning fear of the unknown' accompanied by slowly strumming acoustic guitar, and a processed analogue synth spiralling into the sky like the segue between Jimi Hendrix' '1983, a merman I should turn to be' to 'Moon, Turn the Tides, Gently Gently Away'. Ascending vocal washes, pipe organ and other keyboards endlessly repeat and repeat for the second half of the track. An infinitely rising spirit, cathartically cleansing the listener from material groundings and preparing us for what is to follow.
The album changes pace and feel from here on in - becoming more hypnotic, there's a feeling of expansive space; Monk is an experienced live performer, using voice and chants as a focus to find new sounds and create mood.
'Cabiria' is inspired by the 1957 Italian film 'Nights of Cabiria', directed by Federico Fellini and is certainly a highlight. A mesmerising un-ending drone, similar to an Indian raga, interplays with a polyphony of male and female voices. Importantly Italian vocalist Elisa Gallo Rosso lends her lungs to the piece, giving it an extra magical edge. The piece simmers in the midday burning sun, blurring the line between the horizon and the sky.
The remainder of the album takes us further from our comfort zone, exploring dark unnatural depths through a wide spectrum of drones, echoing keyboards and voices from the other side. Illustrated perhaps most clearly in 'Vathek' - an Arabian 'caliph' who renounces Islam, and eventually descends into hell after attaining supernatural powers through terrible acts with his mother.
Rich in instrumentation, and conjuring trances through almost shamanistic chants and drones 'The Safety Machine' still manages to find song based structures to ground itself. We could have traveled back in time several decades, for all its psychedelic keyboards and sonics, not to mention lofi production technique. Its raw, unrestrained feel gives the album an edgy tension, at times achingly beautiful, always intriguing. One to put on the headphones, close your eyes and become immersed in.
'The Safety Machine' is released by Smeraldina-Rima on limited vinyl and digital.