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Speech Machine - 2013 - "Speech Machine"

(49:38, ‘Speech Machine’)


1.  Blue & Green 3:55
2.  Fall Away 4:20
3.  Special 3:21
4.  Won't Be So Gone Anymore 3:52
5.  You Know You Care 4:10
6.  Way Too Slow 3:20
7.  Song Three 3:40
8.  Mensonges 4:40
9.  Adrenochrome 3:11
10. Kisses for the Sun 5:46
11. Leave on Time 3:41
12. Pins 5:42 


Martin Charlebois – vocals; bass, guitars
Ben Smith – drums 
Ted Norris – banjo 
Nick Collins – clarinet 
Nathaniel Schleiner – sax 
Ellen Jeanne Kilcup – cello 
Jonathan Obien – keyboards 

Prolusion. The US based project SPEECH MACHINE is the creative vehicle of Canada-born composer and musician Martin Charlebois. The project was instigated in 2005, and in 2006 the first Speech Machine album appeared. Three more have been recorded and released since then, and "Speech Machine" from 2013 is the most recent of these.

Analysis. The music of Speech Machine as of 2013 is one that will make more people than me rapidly expand the loss of hair on the top of our collective heads, as this is a production that is pretty difficult to consign to one of those ready made genre boxes one will often prefer to use when attempting to place a band or a specific album into a context. If there is one thing I'm rather certain of however, it is that this isn't an album that can or should be described as progressive rock. There are certain art oriented approaches utilized that may make it an interesting production for a specific segment amongst people who listen to progressive rock as well as other genres of music, but those who only listen to progressive rock and metal won't find much here. I guess the alternative tag is one that can be used on this CD, at least that is the closest call I can make, but that's more on suspicion than on knowledge as such, as the alternative scene is one I don't have any deeper knowledge about. The initial tracks on this album are a curious bunch no matter what context you'd like to place them in. Acoustic guitar and piano are key ingredients beside the detached vocals of project leader Charlebois, his voice and vocal approach ones that do inspire the use of words such as detached, distanced and sleepy while not quite fitting any of them. The manner in which the guitar and piano are used on the first half or so of the disc makes for a curious experience, and alongside the vocals I get subtle associations towards country music and southern rock, besides the likely description of alternative something possibly fitting the circumstances. The songs that feature banjo obviously come with a natural country flavor to them due to that detail alone, while the associations that come to mind when sax and clarinet are employed are just a tad more difficult to define. Following the mournful ballad Song Three, the French-language Mensonges is another entry into material of a subtly Country flavored pop/rock style, whereas on the melancholic hard-to-define Adrenochrome, with its cello details and subtly psychedelic vibes, Speech Machine shifts towards more of a grunge-tinged style. Some tendencies in that department did appear on the earlier Way Too Slow as well, but are more defined features on Kisses for the Sun and Leave on Time. The former is more of an art oriented affair with cello, a chorus that reminds of Waltzing Matilda and with some dampened Nirvana-like guitar riffs as defining details, the latter a very nice example of what one might describe as acoustic grunge. Just about pure grunge in terms of approach, but with acoustic guitar as the key instrument. Concluding composition Pins ends this album on a more undefined note again, a pleasant song wiith room for both saxophone soloing and psych-dripping guitars, and possibly another one that it will be easy to place somewhere inside the alternative rock universe. A fitting conclusion to an oddly pleasant and at times rather interesting disc.

Conclusion. Speech Machine's fourth full-length production is one that should appeal to a mainstream oriented rock audience first and foremost. Subtle associations to Country music is a recurring feature, in compositions that will most likely be sorted somewhere inside the alternative rock segment. On some occasions we do hear that this is a project based out of Seattle too however, as there are some songs at hand that do feature slight echoes of bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and while these songs aren't performed in a grunge style the approach and structure appear to borrow heavily from that kind of music. That there are a couple of tracks with slight psychedelic tendencies too is one of the many details that makes this album hard to categorize. An album that probably warrants an inspection by an alternative interested audience with a fairly liberal taste in music and a soft spot for compositions without any dramatic details of note.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: August 21, 2014
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