On the most superficial level, making an album like This Machine Kills Artists should be the definition of simplicity. How could it not be? The arrangements for the songs have already been written and the design has been set so, simply, stripping away the trappings installed by a record producer as well as the other instruments which are usually in the song and leaving only the barest aspects required to ensure that the song remains recognizable should be easy – right? Sure it is – but the challenge then becomes making an album which surpasses the minimum effort required to produced something so spare, but also allowing it to retain some magic to engage listeners. The vinyl release of This Machine… absolutely does that, but the delicious part is that it does it in a manner which relies on listeners being ready and willing to dig deep within themselves and find satisfaction and excitement in the little things about the music.
In the performances on This Machine…, the air between the notes, the reverb reflecting off the walls of The Sound of Sirens Studio and other such meticulously preserved incidental sounds help to give listeners an experience that the original CD release didn’t exactly do justice to; those with headphones fine enough would certainly have caught an impression of them if it was possible, but the production on the CD just did not afford that. To really get the whole experience, listeners need to discover a vinyl copy of the album and turn up the volume; the analogue format not only affords listeners the opportunity to really discover every sound on the record, but also lays out the blueprint which explains why they’re there. Moreso than on the CD, Osborne and producer Toshi Kasai present a record which captures the sound of a room and how the two were able to manipulate it to create a musical work of art which is relentlessly delicate and aware of every sound which is being committed to tape and where exactly it will appear. The results will likely surprise listeners because they are so preciously presented, but no one will be able to deny that the care taken in during the recording process didn’t produce a one-of-a-kind result.
While the album starts out straight forward enough (“Dark Brown Teeth” plays like any fan would expect a Melvins acoustic album to – spare, stripped down and downtuned acoustic guitar takes the song and sets it up around a campfire) it doesn’t take long for Osborne and Kasai to begin taking advantage of the space in the mixes of each track and begin discreetly tweaking each one. On “Vaulting Over A Microphone,” for example, the mix seems almost oppressively tight until small sparks of aural chaos begin squeezing out of the lefthand channel, while the space on the right immediately opens up on the very next song (“The New River”) and sees guitar tones bouncing and reverberating freely through both channels. Those exercises are interesting on a small scale but, suddenly on songs like “The Vulgat Joke,” listeners will be amazed to discover just how many possibilities this experiment is capable of delivering. On this particular track, Osborne’s guitar suddenly feels like the largest, most monolithic thing in all creation; multiple microphones pointed in different directions capture the sound of Buzz’s guitar as it reflects off of walls and other objects in the room and blends together in the mix to sound bigger and more spectacular than anyone would normally expect an acoustic guitar to sound. Such an experience is absolutely mind-expanding, and even the most critical minds will find themselves awe-struck by what they hear.
Still reeling by the movements and creative re-imaginings produced on the album’s A-side, listeners will be flabbergasted to discover that Osborne and Kasai’s ambition is capable of reaching even further on the B-side of This Machine Kills Artists. On tracks like “How I Became Offensive,” Instrument Of God,” “Good & Hostile” and “The Blithering Idiot,” no angle isn’t investigated in the interest of presenting a unique sound; by turns, King Buzzo and his acoustic guitar sound as though they’re situated in an enormous and unfurnished concert theater, and a confining space which is as small as a pine box (and reverberates like one too), and the audio sounds as though it was captured with everything from the finest digital recording platform to a battered, fuzzy cassette player. Often, such extremes appear via different instrumental tracks in the same song too. By the time the B-side’s running finally closes with a truly inspired performance of “The Hesitation Twist,” listeners will find themselves simultaneously spent and excited by the experience of This Machine Kills Artists.
With all the above glowing praise now a matter of public record, stating that This Machine Kills Artists is a rare treasure seems a little contrived, but it really is the only phrase which suits. While an artist’s ambition often dwarfs the results captured on an acoustic album or said album often really amounts to little more than a novel distraction released while the auteur tries to figure out what he/she wants to do next, This Machine Kills Artists fits neither of those areas. In fact, the vinyl release of This Machine Kills Artists goes well beyond anything that anyone (fan or critic) would expect of an album of its type; it charts territory which was perfectly unexpected of Buzz Osborne before. That it works as well as it does is a great surprise and, after first experiencing it, listeners won’t be able to stop themselves from hoping that the guitarist will keep exploring what he’s begun here.