Pittsburgh Indie Outfit String Machine Release Dynamic New Album

Pittsburgh Indie Outfit String Machine Release Dynamic New Album

A band with seven people can go one of two ways: haywire or miraculous. In the case of Pittsburgh-based indie-folk outfit String Machine, they’re the latter. It’s not luck, though, it’s pure talent. Each member of the band is a force — when two members collide, a lightning bolt strikes and suddenly their combined talent becomes exponentially more special.

On their new album, Death of the Neon, released a few weeks ago, String Machine lead listeners into a flurry of enchanting soundscapes and vulnerable songwriting.

The album was written from a place of emotional callus. A lot of the lyrical content is built on the metaphor of an ‘exoskeleton,’ or a place within the ‘blanket soul,’ where your feelings are hidden to keep composure. I feel like we all have survival instincts to cope with emotional distress: we either absorb and work through it or harden like a stone.

This album was my outlet to work through emotional indifference and get to the core of my callus. My car was malfunctioning and caused a lot of stress — at the core of the stress, I found myself afraid of changes in my life, afraid of dying in a car wreck, afraid of moving forward alone. I didn’t have a cell phone while writing/recording this album [for eight months] so it wouldn’t distract me from finishing the album. There were a handful of times where the car would break down and I’d feel helpless. One time I told my bandmates that I’d only listen to CDs in my car that I wouldn’t mind dying to on the side of the road. When snow storms would pillage our rural town, I’d put certain songs on repeat, almost anticipating a crash. It was symbolic to my life: cling to things that bring comfort and apprehend the changes.

The death of my Dodge Neon was like a death to my youth, a death to the way things had always been. My attachment to the car was an indirect attachment to life as I knew it and I was left with the choice of moving forward or being stuck in one place like an insect caught in a cobweb, the album is about learning to shed your thick hide and embrace the changes in life.

The recording process was strenuous — we self-produced the whole record in our bassist’s basement. There was an excruciating amount of attention to detail: arranging instrumentation to fit our dense dynamic, work-shopping lyrics to carry theme and resolve in solace, to-do lists written on notecards. We really wanted to take a new approach to this album. We worked so hard to keep the dynamics fluid: minimalist when it needed to be and maximalist at moments for the emotional impact.
— David Beck, primary songwriter of String Machine

Death of the Neon opens with “Engine / It’s Time,” a sparse, guitar-plucked introduction to the record’s twangy component that will pop up every once in a while in other songs. Very quickly, String Machine highlight blooming harmony, folk-infused indie-rock rhythms, and an overall sense of robust eeriness, like towards the end of the track when things start clacking and clamoring and rustling with urgency. The album’s opener leads into “Eight Legged Dog” which threatens with a brief buzz before moving on into a soft, dreamy world of sound. On the bright “Old Mack,” the band deliver a story of a disgraceful dog but the song is sweetened by jangly instrumentation and a hoorah! conclusion.

“Rattle On The Spoke” is acoustic-led and piano-based, so it has such a lovely twinkling nature to it, but it’s sort of a lazy whirlwind, too. On “No Holiday / Excite Again,” songwriters David and Laurel gently take us into the tricky dynamics of friendship and alienation with lyrics like “it’s like they leave me out / just to leave me in / but wedge me out / when i try to wedge me in,” a series of slightly jaded diary-like verses sung beautifully in the midst and mist of a swirling, tender soundscape. It’s one of the standout tracks of the record.

The second half of the album finds “Death of the Neon (Pt. 1, 2, & 3),” a shimmery indie-rock effort with a groove to it in its psychedelic influence, most easily heard in drifting clouds of warbling synth and soft 70s harmonies. “Mara (In The Breeze)” is one of String Machine’s loveliest efforts of songwriting — it’s an abstract love song, built lyrically on details and senses, built sonically on brassy bursts and warring tones. A similarly stunning example of songwriting, “Pit Of The Peach” is heavy with wide swaths of sound that stretch over the song, given depth by moments of ornate classical components that lose all sensibility and give way to voluminous instrumental wars. Death of the Neon ends with “Comforts From The Cobweb,” in which String Machine revert back to the album’s beginnings of light, jangling tones cut by twang.

With Death of the Neon, the members of String Machine put their skills and their hearts on the table. Each track is its own one-of-a-kind sound experience, but put together, the collection is enamoring. It’s occasionally jarring, frequently dizzying, and always emotional.

Listen to Death of the Neon below and connect with String Machine on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Featured photo of String Machine by David McCandless

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