Rain Machine: “Rain Machine”
On last year’s TV on the Radio album Dear Science, love shone as the one true light of hope in an increasingly dark world, a salvation both sure and strong. The album was rich in troubling incantations and ominous prophesies about war and decay, but it ended with a song called “Lover’s Day,” in which the band mixed images of love romantic and divine as they floated in a festive parade through the valley of death itself. Love is and always has been the answer, the song suggested– and in TVotR’s hands, it was no cliche.
Kyp Malone wrote and sang the lead vocal on that song, which makes it a peculiar thing to hear him, on his solo debut under the name Rain Machine, pen a song called “Love Won’t Save You.” Altogether less cheerful and cathartic than anything in the TVotR oeuvre, Rain Machine is an album dark, measured, and very frequently sad– so what’s changed for Kyp Malone? Has his belief in love’s redemption wavered, or was that always, only an act?
The answer, I think, is something far less sinister. Succinctly put, Rain Machine is a very different album than Dear Science. But obvious though that statement may be, its simplicity is deceptive: Though it feels like a very different work than anything Malone has made with David Sitek and Co., its distinguishing characteristics are initially rather difficult to pin down, as the music is rooted, at least on paper, in an aesthetic very similar to TV on the Radio’s.
But start with this: Rain Machine is a very personal album in a way that a record made by five different musicians could never quite be, especially when songwriting duties are split between them. Dear Science, was an indie-fied Sign ‘o the Times for a generation bred on Radiohead and U2, an experimental but nevertheless anthemic exploration of violence and despair in which the antidote to cultural decay was a healthy mixture of music, sex, and God. It was a statement, which Rain Machine never tries to be: Instead, it is an act of expression, a very individual vision of turmoil as seen not through the eyes of society, but through one man. Which is not to say that it is in any sense a confessional album, or that Malone’s concerns here are of an introspective nature– cultural concerns inform these tracks, and the lyrics are littered with burning crosses, references to racial tension and violence, and in some cases anecdotes ripped straight from the evening news– but Rain Machine is not a manifesto: It is simply Malone’s point of view.
That philosophy plays out in the sound of the album, too. You can hear it in the production– in how the polished beats of Dear Science, have been replaced by rickety hand percussion, for instance– but it’s most evident in the songs themselves: In how they stretch out with luxurious sprawl and leisurely pacing, more than half of the songs topping five minutes and three of them hitting eight; in how Malone engages his love of acoustic music, a couple of songs flirting with folk music; in how the music is meandering in the best possible way, a much looser, and also more mellow, album than any in the TVotR canon.
To put it another way, this is an album that clearly reflects how influential Malone’s voice is to TV on the Radio– all the seeds of their music are contained here, in more primitive form– but with Rain Machine he is able to do things Sitek would never let slide on a proper, full-band outing. Not only is it lo-fi and low-key, but it’s a terrifically ramshackle release, rougher and more individualistic than the more streamlined TV on the Radio albums. That’s even heard in “Give Blood,” the song here that most resembles a TVotR track; it’s a fuzzed-out funk track that could have fit on Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, yet it’s more manic and marvelously unhinged than anything the band has ever done, too rough around the edges, too raggedly homemade to work within the context of TVotR. But for the most part, these songs are ballads, and on the whole it’s a much more intimate and idiosyncratic album than what we’re used to hearing from Malone.
Bizarrely, some have said that the album sounds basically like another TV on the Radio album, a statement that is somewhat true in terms of the style, but not in the actual sound of the album: This music simply feels different, as it is the sound of one gifted musician indulging his interests and obsessions and simply letting the music take him where it will. And indulgent the album may be, but it’s also beautiful and almost always mesmerizing, clearly made with love and care. (To be fair, the slow tempos bog down the last few songs, though, on their own, they’re fine tracks all.) If Dear Science, is an art-pop masterpiece– an album that would spawn at least a half-dozen hit singles in some alternate universe– then Rain Machine is its downbeat chaser, a very fine reflection on an artist whose very personal music proves infinitely rewarding to listeners with willing ears.