Being one of the biggest bands in the world, TV On the Radio have little room for error. If they release an inaccessible album they can quickly drop from the mainstream spotlight. This might explain why singer/guitarist Kyp Malone decided to explore his earthier sounds with his side project Rain Machine, rather than forcing them upon his super group. At first glimpse, Rain Machine sounds no different than TVOTR, but as the self-titled album unravels, it becomes quickly apparent that Kyp is the band’s George Harrison, willing to experiment with Middle-Eastern instrumentation and move toward more tribal horizons.
Stripped down – this musical term, often over-used by music critics, fits perfectly in this case (call me a hack if you must). The drum machine has been stashed away in favor for tambourines, hand claps, and jingle bells. The lack of a pulsing beat in the music helps make Kyp more down to earth, but at the same time, makes the music seem less significant and quaint. It still features the signature TVOTR “double guitar lead” falsetto vocals, but the music is atmospheres away from Thin Lizzy’s stadium sound. The album sounds like it could have been performed in your living room, although its trippy vibe may require a quick trip to Target for throw pillows and bean bags.
Even the guitars, although often drenched in overdrive, seem to meander in a jumbled faze, fingers sliding up and down the fret board in search of a melody. “Driftwood Heart” is the best example of the album as a whole, being a five minute mess of banjos, mandolins, and the soft “oohing” and “ahhing” of a ghostly choir.
On the first half of the album, Rain Machine balance the jangley with the more modern stylings beautifully, presenting a basic, soilly sound that works wonderfully. Unfortunately, songs like “Winter Song”, “Desperate Bitch”, and “Love Won’t Save You” take the sound too far. Each of them is over eight minutes of the band trying to find a melody that never takes shape. By the time you reach the end of the album, you are tapping out. It’s just too much – too lost, too droning, too whiney. While you’ve got to respect the band for following its muse, you wish that the album had more songs like “New Last Name” and “Give Blood” from start to finish.
Despite all its flaws and extravagant rambling, Rain Machine has a simple charm to it. It isn’t going to change the world. The songs aren’t on worldly topics that TVOTR tackle. No, Kyp doesn’t use Rain Machine to send any big messages. Instead, he sings borderline filthy lyrics like “I tried to change my name to Big Fag” or “You could have the fattest cock or the sweetest pussy.” But in the end, maybe Kyp is making a bigger statement than I give him credit because amidst a recession, there is no better endowment to invest in than the one in your pants.