String Machine - "Death of the Neon"

I think the first time I saw String Machine I was playing a show with them when Soda Club was trotting and boppin’ around. It was at, the now defunct (RIP I really liked the venue), James Street Gastropub. It was kind of a surreal evening for me I was soaking up in friendship because a couple days later I was going to be leaving PGH for a month to study on a Native American reservation, very far away from a lot of the urban landscape I’d been accustomed to for quite some time. Anyway, here’s all these feelings, magnified by the city and the multitude of people who were at the show. Lights, friends, laughter, music, and I WAS FEELING it. Being caught up in a dopamine rush//heightened awareness//whatever you want to call it, String Machine was just about to start and close out the night. David started playing his guitar and the band members started joining in steadily as if it were an orchestra feeling it out and sound checking, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, then it all clicked. Whatever anxieties I had dissipated for those few minutes and my brain had a momentary reset. The song was “Pit of the Peach” and I was completely blown away. I’ve been humming that song for about a year and a half now and I bet the band has had it in their back pocket for that long or longer, but now, now we all get to bask in the glory of the world this band has created with Death of the Neon, and let me tell you folks something, hell yeah. 

String Machine are a 7 piece collective hailing from north of Pittsburgh, the rural hinterlands above the city. Comprised of David Beck (vocals, lyrics, guitar), Dylan Kersten (synth, piano), Laurel Wain (vocals), Ian Compton (trumpet), Nic Temple (drums), Mike Law (bass), Katie Morrow (cello) this group has blended together to create the best version of maximalism I’ve heard in a long minute. Tender maximalism is hard; emotions meant to create a scope the size of the earth can either be narcissisticly hollow or pretentious to the point of drool, but String Machine have created an environment that puts the whole world in your heart while you’re shoveling snow in your backyard. 

The album begins and the first three tracks immediately capture me into a world of hope, despair and earnestness. Engine/It’s Time immediately grabbing me as Beck narrates how his brain is working and jumping across thoughts, scatterbrained yet focused, as he’s waiting for his car to start working again. It seems like in times of forced patience during chaos our mind can focus and create beautiful connections.

“I’m thinking of how friends treat friends differently. If I’m an engine to you, I have no use if I overheat.” 

The lyrics fall off and we’re transported into a second suite giving us a preview of how the album will teeter between earth and the ether finally bringing us crashing back with the rhythm section locked into a beautiful back and forth that leads to an explosion. The instrumentation and production on this track is incredible and this is just the first track? God damn. 

As the album continues and we’re brought about the countryside as Beck narrates to us the angular didactics of his mind, with Laurel Wain’s harmonies pushing every song to greater heights. The layers of instrumentation, vocals, and weird car engine noises/found sounds make this album a great thing to come back for repeated listens to. Every track is either a city or a forest and you can’t explore Yellowstone or New Orleans in one day. Everything needs space to breathe. This might be accredited to them recording this album in Saxonburg. While still being listed as part of the Metropolitan area of Pittsburgh is more rural than urban. I feel that this is something that you can feel through the music as well, a distinct recognition of ruralness against the backdrop of urbanization, technology and desolation through industry. While all of this sounds bleak, which I mean yes of course it is, there is still the idea of resolution, strength, and most importantly, love. That’s the thing that String Machine is so good at doing, creating a space that you can float around in and feel surrounded by love while still being by yourself in vast isolation, whether it be through nature, walking alone in a city, or in your own anxious thoughts.
While I’m guessing String Machine will consistently be compared to big maximalist groups like TWIABP and Los Campesinos, I can’t help but think of Neil Young when I hear the first three tracks. Sincere, folk bounce amongst anxiety. It’s like String Machine is taking us along a scrapbook of their influences while not ripping any of the pages out to shove up their sleeves to cheat on the exam. I think it all comes together on Old Mack, my favorite song on the album. It’s a reflection on memories but also reassurance of everything; in the face of trouble we rely on our friends, community, memories to keep us safe. When the guitar solo hits I’m brought to the images of coming to in a haze after naps in the car when torrential downpours are going on, sitting there hearing the chaos around me while knowing a loved one is trying to safely maneuver through it all. Which brings me back to that feeling of ease I got when I saw them live at James Street. Here we are surrounded by a downpour of existential thoughts and chaos in the universe, but I can rest easy knowing String Machine is driving, trying to get us through this storm into better territory. 

RIYL: Grizzly Bear, Neil Young, Los Campesinos, your heart exploding with feeling all over the dashboard, the biggest bedroom you’ve ever cried with your friends in, “hell yeah, brother”

Favorite Tracks: Engine/It’s Time, Old Mack, DEATHOFANEON (Pt. 1,2, & 3), Pit of the Peach

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