Recommended Albums #18

These Humble Machines

BT: These Humble Machines (2011)

BT (Brian Transeau from Rockville, Maryland) is a classically trained musician who attended the Berklee College of Music at age 15. He is also widely regarded as one of the forefathers of today’s electronic music and a creator of the house music sub-genre known as “trance”. If that weren’t enough, he has developed revolutionary new music programming and software technologies and, over the course of a 15-year career, worked with such biggies as Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Sting, Seal, Britney Spears and Madonna.

These Humble Machines is a single-disc truncation of BT’s two-disc These Hopeful Machines album, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance album. For the non-trance fan, it’s a more palatable distillation of the longer work, trimming songs of 8- and 11-minutes duration to a more digestible 4-to-6 or so.

As for the “Electronic/Dance album” tag, that’s somewhat misleading in and of itself. Because if you’re not a fan of the genre and BT in particular, what you won’t know is that this is an album which can be appreciated as much or more for its rock and pop elements as for its electronic leanings. Its fusion of styles is unique in BT’s catalogue and possibly in all of contemporary pop. While some songs (especially the instrumental tracks) are indeed electronic and trance music extravaganzas, at least half of These Humble Machines consists of pop rock or pop prog songs with linear lyrics and a rock backbeat overlaid with electronic flourishes.

I’m reminded of when Yes (considered dinosaurs even then) burst back on the scene in 1983 with the Trevor Horn-produced 90125 album and a leaner, contemporized sound that included keyboard sampling. BT has created, in some ways, a modern equivalent–similarly offering up (what are to my ears at least) rock songs topped off with colorful avant-pop sprinkles. I’m not sure if BT has made rock music for the house music audience or house music for rock fans. But, approaching this record from a rock fan’s perspective, I hear propulsive songs with ecstatic choruses in musical settings that feature electronic sounds and keyboards mostly assuming the traditional rock guitar role. And the result is fresh and exhilarating.

“Suddenly” might best typify the album’s blending of genres. “Always” sounds to me, lyrically, like a “Born to Run” update (minus the motorbike motif). And “Love Can Kill You” seems content to simmer in its own groove for a minute and a half before suddenly exploding into a flat-out killer chorus.

“Best Electronic/Dance Album”? I can’t speak to that. But if there were a category called “Best Album for Blaring Out an Open Window at High Volume”, this album would have certainly deserved that Grammy.

Listen to: “Suddenly”

Listen to: “Always”

Listen to: “Love Can Kill You”

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