Album review: Shock Machine – S/T

A decade on from their meteoric rise, Klaxons’ legacy stands almost as a mere cautionary tale of a band who peaked too early. With their Mercury Prize-winning debut Myths of the Near Future, a record brimming with as many superb earworm moments as it was off-kilter eccentricities, Klaxons brought the concept of New Rave – Indie Rock touched up with synth sounds and neon textures – as close as it ever came to any serious fruition. Their latter two records, Surfing the Void and Love Frequency were two vastly different records to Myths, and each other, that garnered a similar critical ambivalence (Klaxons were never critical darlings to anyone besides the utterly doting NME) but a comparatively meagre commercial response considering Myths’ wild success. With this, and the then-imminent birth of keyboardist Righton’s first child as Mr Keira Knightley, Klaxons disbanded in December 2014. Shock Machine’s eponymous debut is Righton’s first full-length solo project and the first audio offering of a life-after-Klaxons from the band.

Whilst Shock Machine maintains the Klaxons’ colour, it lacks their boundless energy. The album’s most Klaxons-esque cuts ‘Unlimited Love’ could only have masqueraded as a Myths cut, were it played in double-time, and although ‘Fire Up My Heart’ has vigour as the album’s most danceable track by a distance, it’s more distantly reminiscent of classic disco than any of the band’s more Rave-centric sounds.

The opener ‘Open Up The Sky’ is a useful microcosm of the album as a whole, an ethereal audio dreamscape rudely awoken by forced pop sensibilities. Barring the aforementioned tracks in the vein of Righton’s former work, only ‘Strange Waves’ strikes a natural balance between gauzy sounds and traditional pop foundations, and swathes of the album’s composition feel needlessly shoehorned towards the latter.

It is evident that Shock Machine’s forte is creating atmosphere, and his instrumentals are firmly the album’s central focus. Although delivered in increments, Righton flexes his production muscle, demonstrating an ability to successfully craft oneiric, progressive tracks, if not the consistency to deliver them for an entire album of material. The record starts well, the four cuts teased before release are placed appropriately but Shock Machine unravels badly towards its end, with the listless closing tracks ‘Get You’ and ‘Something More’ standing as two of Righton’s weakest.

The album is also an often-lonely affair, one that would undoubtedly benefit from guest features, especially for vocals. Righton’s voice is a little too frail for him to pass convincingly as a frontman, he misses his former bandmate Jamie Reynolds probably more than he realises. Although this disparity between vocals and instrumentals aids Shock Machine’s consistently dreamy aesthetic, it ultimately leads to distraction when his voice occasionally disappears into the haze of sounds he creates – ‘Lost in the Mystery’ and ‘Get You’ being the album’s worst offenders.

Shock Machine is an unbalanced, front-loaded project that despite being a markedly different Klaxons offshoot, falls somewhere between the band’s middling latter releases rather than anywhere close to their superb debut. Righton can evidently create appealing sounds, but what is here is a little too undercooked, and thus his debut solo effort stands as a potentially promising proof of concept, if little else.

By David Flanigan