ALBUM REVIEW: Machine Translations – Oh

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J Walker returns with his first album in four years and it finds him in an eclectic yet economical mood. The Bright Door (2007) possessed polish and an ornate sheen while Oh replaces that with rougher edges and a subtle shift toward a lower-fi aesthetic.

The opening track Made A Friend sounds like Beck in his melancholic balladeer mode before the first single Parliament Of Spiders (and later, the title-track) veers off into skewed art-pop mode akin to Spoon. It highlights the stronger focus on rhythm and melodies that jump from the speakers with more immediacy. Sola gets even more primal with a Sonic Youth meets Sparklehorse guitar skronk and driving urgency.

Walker has a way of vocally inhabiting his songs in a range of styles, from slacker dispatches to warm songwriter crooning. It shows his magpie approach to writing but even though the styles vary the sonic palette he utilises is cleverly controlled and its elements blended in service to the song, never for the sake of obtuse musical eccentricity. The instrumental Room 17 particularly stands out with its delicate phrasings and Dirty Three-indebted European gypsy sway.

Oh is an endlessly fascinating album, still built on multi-layered creativity but presented in concise and vibrant form.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Machine Translations | The Bright Door

J Walker returns with a new collection of dreamy and inventive songs that simultaneously serenade and gently challenge the listener.

square-600-4Rating7.5Ostensibly the solo project of J Walker, Machine Translations is now eight albums deep in a discography that has proven to be one overflowing with inventiveness, creativity and in many cases unassuming genius. Walker is one of those musicians who flies under the mainstream radar yet in musical circles his work is held in great esteem. This might be a dilemma for some yet one gets the sense from his self-assured songwriting and the feeling of contentment emanating from the speakers that he isn’t one hellbent on nailing himself to the cross of the triple j Hottest 100. The Bright Door continues in the vein of his previous work with a plethora of slow-revealing moments of beauty and delicate refrains.

This is an album that requires attentiveness and focus from the listener. Play it in the background at your own peril as it will waft away leaving little sonic imprint. Each song is a vignette with carefully placed melodies, diverse percussion and a variety of string and woodwind instruments. Its intimacy and the way the songs gently reveal their hooks are the triumph of The Bright Door. From the repetitive gossamer piano drone of Applecore to the circling guitar shapes of Anne and the gentle chug of You Can’t Give It Back Walker’s secret weapon is weaving those threads of repetition into the songs without the listener consciously hearing them or tiring from their effect. The result is an album that has a dreamy, hypnotic nature, both light on the ear and heavy on the heart at the same time.

Walker sits comfortably amongst peers like Sparklehorse, Califone, The Notwist, Deus and even Beck in his most meditative moments – all acts that excel in deconstructing popular song and re-imagining it with a romantic and melancholic emotive streak in the context of post rock, folk and gentle psychedelia. The Bright Door is a wonderfully rich and immersive album and a reminder that out past the trends and popularity contests there are still songwriters like J Walker trawling the deep waters of creativity.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder