The Dandy Warhols may be based in Portland, but as an alt-rock band with almost 20 years of experience in the industry and a large cult following, they hardly fit the hipster label that’s grown to be associated with the city. Unfortunately, it’s this very cult following that may be the only audience for the band’s latest album, This Machine. While it’s admirable that The Dandy Warhols are attempting to tread new ground with their latest release, they’re almost too ambitious in this endeavor. It results in an album of disjointed tracks that barely feel cohesive.
Lead singer and guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s vocals are often muddled and coarse, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it worked with many of the band’s previous albums, but they don’t quite seem to fit with the darker approach of This Machine. The opening track, “Sad Vacation,” is ironically indicative of what’s soon to follow: “The more I change/the more I feel like I have to stay the same.” However, the track itself is relatively inoffensive (if not a bit dull), despite the fast-paced drums that drive the song’s tempo.
This Machine isn’t quite sure whether it wants to be Elliott Smith (with acoustic, melancholic tracks like “Well They’re Gone”) or some sort of throwback to ‘80s synth-rock. If anything, the album is at its best when it avoids this dreary atmosphere. More upbeat tracks like “I Am Free” and “Rest Your Head” seem like they should be from a different album altogether. They are a surprisingly enjoyable change of pace reminiscent of the band’s earlier work in the ‘90s.
The rest, however, can’t be awarded the same praise. Aside from a few standout tracks, the bulk of the album ranges from filler to overly subdued, unmemorable riffs and disorganized attempts at branching out into other genres. From the accordion-driven “Well They’re Gone” to an oddly placed cover of Merle Travis’s “16 Tons,” nothing in this album quite seems to fit any kind of pattern that would urge listeners to give the album a complete listen. Rather, it seems more like a random array of tracks.
With “Don’t Shoot She Cried,” the second-to-last track, the album starts to go out with a whisper rather than a bang. At six minutes, the track overstays its welcome before leading into “Slide,” which matches the introduction’s distorted instrumentals and hushed vocals.
While This Machine as a whole may not be worth checking out, some of its individual tracks hint at potential that the final product ultimately fails to live up to. At best, the album is loosely reminiscent of The Velvet Underground (from which the band gets its namesake), and at worse, it’s a muddled attempt at musical growth that ultimately misses its mark.