Release Date: Apr 28, 2009
Record label: Mint
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Immaculate Machine's fourth album has a West Coast, retro, hippie feel that, while not usually my cup of tea, is fantastic fun. Opener Don't Build The Bridge mixes a Black Mountainesque guitar riff with Summer of Love harmonized vocals by lead singers Brooke Gallupe and Kathryn Calder (also a New Pornographer). Rhythm-heavy Sound The Alarms makes you want to non-violently protest something, while He's A Biter is wickedly T-Rex.
Immaculate Machine refined their sound significantly during the two years between their debut album, 2005's Ones and Zeroes, and their sophomore effort, 2007's Fables, and if the difference isn't quite as striking on their third full-length, 2009's High on Jackson Hill, its clear that the rough and tumble side of the band's musical personality is becoming less prominent as they dig deeper into the influences of vintage pop and acoustic singer/songwriter material. Brooke Gallupe can still crank up his guitar when the song calls for it, like "Neighbors Don't Mind" and "He's a Biter," but even on those tunes, the pure pop hooks of the former and the glam rock gestures on the latter put their rock moves into a more sophisticated context, and when Kathryn Calder embraces her inner folkie on "You Destroyer," it comes together so seamlessly that it's one of the album's most sublime moments. Even when the band leans into something broadly anthemic on "Sound the Alarms" or dares to show an R&B influence on "Primary Colours," they sound more comfortable and confident than before, and the more easygoing sound suits them well even if it does drain a bit of nervous energy from the performances.
Immaculate Machine might still be a way from being mentioned alongside such beloved Canadian indie successes like Broken Social Scene and the New Pornographers, but the likable, hard-working Victoria, British Columbia band took a significant step two years ago, their third album Immaculate Machine’s Fables winning over skeptics with its rather unique take on West Coast indie pop. Slickly produced, cleverly arranged, showcasing the girl-boy interplay of co-lead vocalists Kathryn Calder and Brooke Gallupe, and featuring some high-profile cameo appearances (including Owen Pallet and Alex Kapranos), Fables was a very pleasant surprise, the young band showing tremendous improvements over their 2005 Mint Records debut Ones and Zeros. With Calder proving to be a welcome addition to the New Pornographers line-up alongside her uncle Carl Newman, that in turn was a fortuitous break for Immaculate Machine, landing them a spot opening for the supergroup on several tours, exposing the band to an even larger audience.
Immaculate Machine’s Brooke Gallupe is a man of many suits. In addition to being chief songwriter, singer, and guitarist for Immaculate Machine’s High on Jackson Hill, Gallup is also a trained opera singer and a published comic artist and has even played with the symphony in his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. All of which may be an indicator as to why High On Jackson Hill tends to feel a bit schizophrenic.
High on Jackson Hill comes a bit less than two years after Immaculate Machine's Fables, whose minor charms came from the way it filtered gentle advice through cute cautionary tales (and, let's not forget, the positively charming Kathryn Calder, a touring member of the New Pornographers). Hill opens with "Don't Build the Bridge", which links the two records nicely. Brooke Gallupe admonishes someone he deems is making a possibly risky social move: "Don't build the bridge, if you don't want to let the riff raff over." It's a sincere enough sentiment, but it also sets an precedent for the rest of the album.