Yet another jumping and varied band out of British Columbia, Immaculate Machine have carved a catchy, often-poppy trail through the Pacific Northwest on their latest release, Fables. After the lo-fi indie rock of their self-released debut LP Transporter in 2004, and the following year’s more straightforward Ones and Zeros on Mint Records, the Victoria-based three-piece of guitarist Brooke Gallupe, keyboardist Kathryn Calder, and drummer Luke Kozlowski took a little time off. However, Immaculate’s profile only rose, thanks to Calder joining her uncle Carl Newman in his Canadian indie supergroup, The New Pornographers, when they recorded and toured Twin Cinema (on tour, Calder often sung the parts for original Pornographer, and now successful solo artist, Neko Case). But Immaculate Machine is no one-woman show, as the two guys and a girl all share vocal duties, and with Fables, that variety is finally given some room to roam, the group answering their new-found visibility with their best, and most enjoyable, record to-date.
Fables opens up with “Jarhand”, its first single (released early & free on iTunes). Poppy with a great beat, “Jarhand” is totally fun as it sweeps you up in its bop, daring you not to boogie. But instead of just re-riding a one-trick pony (Immaculate’s name actually comes from a lyric of Paul Simon’s “One-Trick Pony”), on “Dear Confessor” the threesome shifts to more of a pressing alt-pop/rock, with big, haunting male-female duet vocals (that are reminiscent of Shawn Christensen and Amanda Tannen from haunting NYC alt-pop/rockers, stellastarr*). While that particular form does replay itself with the record’s second-to-last song, “Pocket”, it replays itself well, and more to the point, there’s a whole lot in-between.
“Roman Statues” is a higher, lighter, more melodic indie-pop, somewhere between an alt-country croon and Swedish dream-pop. “Old Flame” and “Small Talk” keep up the records changing moods, though not quite its quality: The staccato beats and Casio keys of “Flame” are interesting, but not as significant as the song wants to be, and while the darker “Talk” features an absolutely resonating chorus, it is a bit too pleading in its verse.
But Fables kicks up its heels with “Nothing Ever Happens”, a saloon-stomping romp whose beat changes actually work particularly well, and there’s a wry joy its chorus, “Nothing ever happens in my town!” But if that’s the ironic happiness of living in a one-horse hamlet, “C’mon Sea Legs” is the ironic despair of leaving that town for the wide-open ocean. A sort of ‘sad sea-shanty’ anthem, “Sea Legs” features its own catchy, eponymous chorus, though it gets repeated a few too many times, and gets stuck in your head in ways bad, as well as good. In between the two tales blows the sad, slow “Northeastern Wind”. “Wind” has echoing minimalist instrumentation and touching vocals, but one just can’t shake the feeling that this isn’t what Immaculate Machine does best. However, the band proves that wrong with Fables’ closer, “Blinding Light”, a tragic, reverberating keyboard sob that plays as a more straight-up – and flat-out better – version of “Northeastern”.
While the last three tracks do bear similarities to other, earlier pieces on Fables, they’re more a rejoinder, a reply, and do not break the feeling that this is an album that goes a great deal of places, from old flames and statues to sea-sick deckhands riding out nor’easters. Immaculate Machine’s vocal mixture and alt-alt B.C. foundation was always ripe for expansion, and on Fables, they’ve found the ambition to do it – all the while never losing the listener’s ear.