Review by Shannon Shumaker
Conrad Keely’s solo debut release, Original Machines may seem a bit daunting at first. Twenty-four songs in length, Original Machines is not your normal full-length album, but not for the reasons that you would think. With short songs that change mood, sound and genre within the blink of an eye, Original Machines will give you whiplash within the first few tracks, making it impossible for the album to becoming boring or redundant, let alone seem too long by any means.
The energy in the opening title track is high, kicking things off right and catching your attention without even trying. While the vocals on this first track are a little mumbled and fast, they fit the frantic mood of the song perfectly. And then, just as you really get into it, “Original Machines” is over before it even meets the minute and a half mark, moving quickly onto the next one. “Warm Insurrection” follows the opening track and is much more mellow and laid back, both in the vocals and instrumentals. This bass heavy track is very different and much more structurally sound than “Original Machines,” yet somehow, the two songs just make sense side by side. “Warm Insurrection,” much like “Original Machines” builds and builds until coming to an abrupt end. Then, the third track, “In Words of a Not So Famous Man” comes in and shakes things up even more. Just when you think Original Machines couldn’t get more wild and diverse, this track, carried primarily by acoustic guitar and soulful vocals comes along and makes you reconsider everything you’ve already assumed about the album. Like “Warm Insurrection,” this track has a bit more structure, though it sounds considerably more atmospheric and soulful. By the time that “In Words of a Not So Famous Man” comes to an end, it’s hard to believe you’re only three tracks into this incredibly diverse release.
Things just keep getting better and better as Original Machines progresses, too. “Inside The Cave” takes you by surprise yet again, because at first, it seems to lose the momentum that the first three songs are so great at building, but then it begins to slowly grow as it goes on, as well. Strong bass and pounding drums carry the song forward with echoey vocals, making it both powerful and haunting. “Engines of the Dark” is a standout among standouts, though, as it truly does sound different than much of the album. This track feels much fuller than the songs preceding it, with the entire band and piano kicking it off right away, while other songs simply build up to those full moments. “Engines of the Dark” is soft, almost the opposite of the songs that come before it, starting big and slowly tapering down into just the piano in the end. It is also one of the longest songs on the album, clocking in at just over three minutes in length.
The length of “Engines of the Dark” brings us to another interesting point of Original Machines. The cool thing about this album is that there is not one single song that comes in at over four minutes long. Only five of the twenty-four tracks are over three minutes in length, and the shortest song comes in at only thirty-four seconds long. Yet somehow, none of the songs on the album manage to sound repetitive. It becomes apparent as it progresses that there are some connecting sounds and themes on Original Machines, such as the echoey vocals, strong bass and psychedelic moods of many of the songs. Each song sounds totally different, but they all build the same, all gain big momentum before changing drastically and moving onto the next one.
There are a few songs that naturally, feel a little bit more like filler rather than singles, such as the noisy, psychedelic track, “Your Tide is Going Out,” or “The Jungles,” which starts with some very interesting instrumentation, but ends before you can really get the hang of it. Alongside big tracks such as “Nothing That I Meant,” shorter songs can tend to fall a little flat. However, that’s not to say that the second half of Original Machines doesn’t have some strong tracks, either. “Row Away,” with a laid back vibe similar to “In Words of a Not So Famous Man” takes us back to the beginning, and “Lost The Flow” is a very poppy track, especially in the backing vocals. “Lost The Flow” is another standout among the many songs on Original Machines.
Some other great songs on the second half of the album are “Forbidden Stones,” because of its deep bass and atmospheric sound, and “Out On The Road,” which provides an insane contrast with a very full and folky sound, much like “Engines of the Dark.” “Looking For Anchors” also holds some very beautiful vocal work right off the bat. Much like “Out On The Road” or “Engines of the Dark” this song is big and beautiful right off the bat. Shorter “Waimanolo Drive” is one of the most stunning songs on the album, with breathtaking and relaxing guitar picking.
Closing out the EP in the only way that makes sense are two vastly different songs. “Marcel Was Here” is wild and nearly sounds like a videogame, contrasting amazingly with the rather safe sounding final track, “Before the Swim.”
Original Machines is a wild ride from start to finish. Though it doesn’t take long at all to sit through all twenty-four songs, you’re bound to feel a bit exhausted by the time it’s through, simply because of how often the album twists and turns. While the huge contrasts between songs is incredible, and absolutely grab your attention in an unexpected way, it may make it hard to look at the album as one cohesive piece of music at times. But I urge you to give Original Machines more than just one listen, as it begins to make sense when you start to make connections between the songs. Original Machines is like a puzzle, and maybe one that we’re not meant to figure out. It’s chaos, but the kind that will leave you wanting more, even after twenty-four songs.
Listen to "Engines of the Dark," "Lost The Flow" or "Waimanolo Drive"