The problem that often plagues most forms of prog is an extreme penchant for the self-indulgent; gorging on the unconventional like last-orders in an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Whether it’s playing with off-kilter time signatures, weaving exotic instruments into the fold or fifteen-minute-long jazz-inspired odysseys with an extended C# Hungarian minor oboe solo, it’s not exactly a genre best known for moderation. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with that – and some people make a very good living from it – it does indicate a reason why you won’t hear any of it bothering mainstream radio. So how do Brighton’s Maschine fit into all of this?
Their latest effort, ‘Naturalis’, is every bit as proggy as any aficionado would hope for but where they differ is the lack of room for over-indulgence. Despite every song exceeding five-minutes, there’s nothing that feels superfluous and at no point are you left feeling that a passage, phrase or song has overstayed its welcome. Sure, there are jazzy turns every which way you look (with some sublime guitar noodling) but it only serves to add further colour to the canvas. This is why prog can be among the most interesting genres to listen to.
One of the most notable joys is in the vocals. The interplay between Luke Machin, Daniel Marshal and Marie-Eve de Gautier is sublime – soft, sweet harmonies just sound so resplendent. “Make Believe” is a sheer delight, with its dreamy clean guitars and soothing vocal “aahs” delivering a euphoric yet tranquil experience. There’s more than a hint of post-rock about it and makes for a rather more compelling listen than your run-of-the-mill prog. “Megacyma” brings a darker spin to the table, with meatier riffs and Tool-esque mysticism, whilst “Hidden In Plain Sight” grooves with an alt-rock bounce delightfully augmented with a mellow pop chorus. It’s drawing influence from different realms of music but carefully weaving them into something coherent and palatable.
Arguably, writing prog requires an element of fearlessness – you can’t be hamstrung by doubts over what you are doing as you’ll end up with something so watered-down you can barely comprehend the extortionate price the bar is charging for it. Of course, this can result in some wacky concoctions that can leave you asking why you drank that and why you’re now so hammered. Where ‘Naturalis’ is concerned, it is a refined and sophisticated choice with nary a note wrong that will have you ordering another round in no time. A gem.