Industrial rock from the lite side: the technological rhythmotics of Machines of Loving Grace spring from the same middlebrow collegiate conformism reflected in the Tucson, Arizona band’s Richard Brautigan-derived moniker. Programming its tiny gears in the direction of Ministry, Foetus and Nine Inch Nails, the group led by growly singer Scott Benzel and keyboardist Mike Fisher samples and regurgitates reality in mild-mannered celebrity percolations like “Cicciolina” and “Burn Like Brilliant Trash (At Jackie’s Funeral)” on its harmless homemade debut, adding the generic apocalyptics of “Terminal City” and the South Africa-citing “X-Insurrection.” Dismal and redundant.
Veteran noise sculptor Roli Mosimann hits the accelerator as the producer of Concentration, an album that embraces all the form’s standard attributes — distorted vocals, malevolent whispers, chanted slogans, pummelling layers of instrumental overdrive and walloping beats — and none of the frantic desperation, genuine aggression or invention that can make it all exciting. The group’s intelligence works against its sonic desires: complex lyrics indicative of recent book learning and historical awareness don’t mesh with the grind. The screamed profanity of “Albert Speer” lacks conviction, while the sexuality of “Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll)” is too cerebral to work up a sweat; the glancing politics of “Cheap” are totally trivial. Although Benzel repeatedly claims (in the driving “Shake”) that “I lost my mind,” his conscientious delivery makes cavalier behavior unthinkable.
Replacing its rhythm section and adding second guitarist Tom Coffeen, Machines of Loving Grace gets closer to the center of the lava spew with Gilt, a garish noise-powered album less tiresomely dependent on keyboards than the first two. Producer Sylvia Massy (who did a similar-sounding job for Tool) encourages lots of grinding, gnashing, howling strings and bombweight drumming, but muscling up the eggheads doesn’t improve the memorability of their songwriting enough. Attempting to feed what appear to be substantial lyrical ideas into a genre that has trouble supporting any more complexity than someone shrieking “I wanna fuck you like an animal,” the Machines are beached on their own ambitions. Without the musical imagination to rewrite the rules, the band can’t command careful attention, even to songs with titles as promising as “Richest Junkie Still Alive,” “Kiss Destroyer” and “Serpico.”