May 1st, 2012 | Published in TCS Reviews
For Marco Machera, a song is less a thing than an event, and he considers himself not a player per se, but rather a practitioner who makes the music in his head happen. Largely self-taught, the Italian has spent his career embracing all styles, filing away bits of knowledge about folk, electronica, jazz, blues, and gospel while leap-frogging through the genres for later application in his solo work. Marco’s impeccable bass playing in progressive rock band Mythos earned him opening slots with celebrated fusion guitarists Adrian Belew, Frank Gambale, and Jennnifer Batten. He also performed with Racer-X / Mr. Big shredder Paul Gilbert at guitar clinics from 2009-2011.
Machera began writing for his debut solo album while scoring soundtracks for a pair of Martina Sacchetti productions at Wimbledon College of Arts Theatre in London. Now available on Innsbruck Records, One Time, Somewhere is Marco’s initial manifest, a nine-track pastiche of mystical melodies, enchanting rhythms, and poetic vocal passages. The album won early stamps of approval from the likes of Peter Gabriel bassist Tony Levin and ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, who praised its “interesting atmospheres and contrasting moods.” Now positive word of mouth is nudging the disc into public consciousness, where Machera’s vision might be appreciated not just One Time, Somewhere but More Often, Everywhere.
The album pools the talents of a cadre of Machera mates, each of whom boasts considerable progressive rock or jazz pedigree. Graphic designer / “wicked” pianist Mark Kostabi tickles (and tortures) the ivories. King Crimson / Projekt extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto handles the bulkier beats, flying in his prodigious percussion tracks (via computer) from a studio in Austin, Texas. Ohio native Rob Fetters (The Bears) recorded the lead vocal on “Days of Summertime” at Baby Ranch Mobile in Cincinnati. Renowned producer Francesco Zampi arranged samples and treatments, adding peripheral instrumentation like orchestral strings and barrel organ.
The album commences with the appropriately-titled “Hello,” whereon Machera slips into the shoes of a desperate guy who can “make no sense of anything” and wishes his would-be paramour would just give him a call. Samples crackle, loops fizz, and cinematic strings sweep around Machera’s plaintive falsetto (which sounds not unlike that of synth-pop wizard Howard Jones). “Stories Left Untold” plays like a page torn from a New York City travelogue, with Theo and Hugh acting the part of tourists wandering Central Park and Liberty Island to the metropolitan sounds of traffic and pedestrian footfalls. Machera’s throbbing bass and Mastelotto’s persistent hi-hat heighten the sense of paranoia when our storytellers become lost in Chinatown.
The disc’s most accessible track, “Days of Summertime,” benefits from Fetters’ lilting lead, a reminiscing of childhood memories both good (“ancient trees” and “kids…playing down the street”) and bad (“ticking of the clock when I was alone”). Machera’s staccato strumming establishes and maintains an easy rhythm which—combined with Fetters’ sweet singing—harkens back to the intellectual pop of Tears for Fears. “Bright Lights Big City” captures the psychic pain of an everyman commuter enduring more “office pain” and “caffeine death.” Distorted, overdriven guitars and pulsating bass coalesce ominously in a Fugazi-esque sonic stew.
Spaghetti western “El Muerto” features dramatic readings by Smoky Hollow and (Italian voice actor) Giorgio Comaschi, who spell out the details of a gunfight gone wrong. The only thing missing from the Ennio Morricone-like allegory is the nervous neighing of horses—and perhaps a vibra-slap.
Brief acoustic intermezzo “Down Below” is little more than a fever dream, but “Gotzendammerung” draws operatic inspiration from Richard Wagner and nihilist nuance from Friedrich Nietzsche (Twilight of the Gods). The noise landscape woven by Machera’s echoey guitars and sinewy synths is at once dreamlike and foreboding. Zampi’s bass and samples go ping-ponging over the wordless track, which might well have been pulled from the catalogues of Alan Parsons or Andy Summers (The Police). Think Nine Inch Nails (circa Pretty Hate Machine), only without Trent Reznor’s vocal vitriol. It even sounds like Machera is tapping on the frets of his guitar for rhythmic effect instead of picking or strumming the strings.
One Time cools down with the quiet instrumental “Hire Her” before signing off with “Troubled Childhood,” a catch-all cut reprising musical motifs and lyrical content heard earlier. But there are new textures to be heard; Kostabi’s “wicked” keyboard passages comingle with Machera’s thick bass and tinkling toy piano. Mastelotto’s mighty drums enter the fray a minute and a half in, beefing the sound until the resulting rumble is more robotic than organic.
One Time features the talents of a cadre of Machera mates, each of whom boasts considerable a progressive rock or jazz pedigree. Graphic designer / “wicked” pianist Mark Kostabi tickles (and tortures) the ivories. King Crimson / Projekt extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto handles the bulkier beats, flying in his prodigious percussion tracks from a studio in Austin, Texas, via computer. Ohio native Rob Fetters (The Bears) recorded the lead vocal on “Days of Summertime” at Baby Ranch Mobile in Cincinnati. Renowned producer Francesco Zampi arranged samples and treatments, adding peripheral instrumentation like orchestral strings and barrel organ.
The music of Marco Machera is pretty enough to make a playlist next to atmospheric albums by Vangelis—but it’s also quirky and technology-driven enough to placate fans of Brad Fidel, Jan Hammer, and Harold Faltermeyer. One Time strikes a delicate balance of old and new, swirling a vast array of sonic colors on a large canvas to render a unique musical portrait of today’s cowboys, cops, and cubicle-dwellers.