It’s been two years since Marco Machera released his debut solo album, One Time, Somewhere, but now the Italian sound-sculptor is back.
It’s not as if Machera hasn’t kept busy. Largely self-taught, the nimble bassist accompanied fusion guitarists like Frank Gambale and Adrian Belew in between gigs with his own progressive rock ensemble, Mythos, and appeared with Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) at guitar clinics in 2011. Machera also scored a pair of Martina Sacchetti productions at Wimbledon College of Arts Theatre in London. He opened for prog-rock legends Marillion on their last Italian tour, and likewise supported Chrysta Bell when the Texan songbird’s recent European jaunt swung through his homeland.
Available today on Innsbruck Records, Dime Novels finds Machera expanding his palette of cinematic sound and intriguing musical cues with the same slick songwriting and nuance—but with a broader range of instruments. Marco’s an accomplished guitarist and percussionist, but his second full-length effort features another helping of the signature samples and drum programming that imbued One Time with character and emotional heft.
But that’s not to say the disc is the sterile, lifeless work of an automaton Svengali on cruise control in a secluded studio someplace. On the contrary, the musical vignettes presented on Dime Novels boast plenty of guitars, keyboards, and serpentine bass—and the addition of banjo and ukulele helps humanize the eclectic mix. For every ethereal sound-scape or mood-piece there’s a more accessible, conventional tune whose mirthful melody and catchy refrain infiltrates the cerebellum.
Moreover, Marco’s brought along some all-stars for his second go-round: King Crimson “ProjeKt” / Stick Men alumni Tony Levin, Markus Reuter, and Pat Mastelotto guest (on bass, guitar, and drums, respectively), anointing the music with their virtuosity and characteristic quirkiness. Pete Donovan and Kevin Andrews contribute their bass skills, and Sacchetti joins Marco in producer capacity.
Undulating to life on sea-swells of synth-organ, “The Sky” relaxes in quiet, protoplasmic bliss for thirty seconds, contracting and expanding until tribal drums commence at the thirty second mark. Machera’s vocal is calm, soothing—and a stratospheric guitar solo is prefaced by violin-esque exaltation. Sounding not unlike a world-beat gem from Peter Gabriel’s So or Us albums, it’s a warbly-but-rhythmic synergy of strings, guitar, and orchestra (harmonium) whereon one man reconciles his station beneath the heavens.
“Beautiful nothings, a ceiling of blue clouds…hop aboard,” reads Machera’s celestial invitation.
Marco pokes fun at popular artists who can’t get radio stations to play their deep cuts—the ones detailing their deepest, darkest secrets—on “The Ugly Song.” Powered by grizzly guitar and a loping beat, schizophrenic song borrows from The Beach Boys’ high harmonies (and Brian Wilson’s SMILE-era production), stitching engaging measures together with unexpected tempo shifts and mood swings. The Beatles’ “Revolution” comes to mind (as do other White Album classics).
The instrumental “Big Juju Man” employs voodoo chant, distorted “touch” guitar (with Robert Fripp feedback and noise) by Reuter, and creaky strings during its sinister first part—but then a funky rhythm guitar and Asian keys go dancing over percolating beats for the giddy second half, grinding to a halt at five minutes.
“Ham on Rye” commences with ambient crowd chatter—then Machera goes cowboy crazy, introducing pedal steel, bottleneck slide guitar, and banjo for an old-fashioned 1-2-3-count country foot-stomp about a guy trying to work past a few differences with his girl:
“There’s a difference between you and I,” he notes. “You’re the nature kind, while I’m stuck to ham on rye.”
Machera’s vocal is soft, but earnest, making his hayride sound a lot like something from the Paul McCartney acoustic playbook (“I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Mull of Kintyre,” “Hope of Deliverance,” etc.). He even manages to name-drop the last album in the lyric. The sparkly entry also features dobro by Machera’s co-producer, Francesco Zampi, lap steel by Andrea Faccioli, and cuatro—a Latino cousin to the lute—by Jennifer Maidman.
The pitter-patter of rain (or perhaps it’s a crackling fire) opens “Out of the Blue,” whose booming tom drums, rumbling bass, and reverberated guitar chords underscore the misadventures of a “pensive nighthawk” in search of the “diner at the end of the road.” A backwards guitar and detuned piano (or maybe it’s a toy keyboard) heighten the menace, a la Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and Levin’s sinewy upright bass lends appropriate bounce and roll. “Sing for You” tiptoes over a trebly synthesizer pulse and flute-like fills while Machera chronicles the haphazardness of the universe: “There’s nothing else to say, no God we can blame.” A locomotive drone gives voice to the narrator’s desperation and helplessness, transforming the piece into a confessional valentine to an absent lover.
“The Art of Cliches” pits Machera’s rubbery bass, Zampi’s buoyant drum samples (and random computer bleeps) against snarling, jagged guitar (shades of Reeves Gabrels) in a scathing rebuke of egotistical, “hey baby” singers who primp, preen, and procrastinate before finally taking the stage—only to ask the understandably impertinent concertgoers if they’re “ready to rock.” Zampi and Reuter decorate “John Porno” with unnerving noise as Machera paints a portrait of the titular “gentleman” whose hapless seduction skills reveal his ulterior motives soon enough. A monotone voice blithely recites a few lines from some throwaway paperback romance (a dime novel) wherein our discount Romeo contemplates his paramour’s “frame of gentle curves and soft flesh.” The sonic architecture of the piece—the clinical, futuristic vibe—reminds us of something Vangelis might’ve done for the Blade Runner soundtrack.
“The Sky, Part II” bookends Dime Novels with another dreamy, musically inventive ode to billowy swathes of cirrus and wafting tufts of cumulonimbus. A steady tick-tick acts as metronome to indistinguishable voices converse in the distance as electronic drums slowly build and reach crescendo as Machera contemplates a world where there’ll be “nothing left to cry for, we’ll be smiling all the time.” Piano chords offer rays of hope within the sadness, sprinkling the coda with an all’s-not-lost optimism. Sonically, it plays like The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”—dramatic and beefy before receding—but thematically it reads like Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Dime Novels is available now on iTunes.