Review: machinegum’s ‘Conduit’ is a tightly-crafted debut


machinegum review

Alexander Gray

While fans impatiently wait for a new LP from the Strokes, drummer and visual artist Fabrizio Moretti silently launched an art collective, kicked off by a new synth-pop album, “Conduit.”

This is far from the first time a member of the Strokes has broken off on their own side-projects. Albert Hammond Jr. has run a solo gig for over a decade, and Julian Casablancas and Nick Valensi have fronted the Voidz and CRX, respectively, in recent years. Moretti himself drummed for rock supergroup Little Joy in 2008. 

machinegum, however, aims to be more than just a band. They proclaim themselves to be “an artists’ collective that draws inspiration from involvement of the viewer/interpreter,” according to their Spotify, inviting artists from all mediums to participate in a give and take relationship. 

Moretti revealed in an interview with BrooklynVegan that until “Conduit”’s full release in May, machinegum shows are invite only, on the chance you find one of their pink quarters spread across New York City. The shows themselves are silent discos, with audience members decked out in pink ponchos listening to the band playing a live feed directly to their bluetooth headphones. 

Moretti compared the creation of this new art collective to having a religious experience when talking to BrooklynVegan. “Music is becoming increasingly more and more like that,” Moretti said. “We live in our headphones and walk around in our stories, and we choose the scores to our movies with our iPhones.”

“Conduit” stands out as one of the most interesting solo projects from the Strokes’ lineup, extracting aspects of the band’s moody writing and new wave-inspired alt-rock for machinegum. Moretti and his enlisted vocalist, Ian Devaney, weave gothic synth-pop and bright new wave into a nostalgic tapestry, between these sounds is a dichotomy of intimate, reserved piety and uninhibited access to private thoughts. Tracks on “Conduit” go from incredibly small to gigantic; simmering, quiet vocal intensity boils up to full instrumental clarity, submerging the listener in a neon baptism.

We’re privy to a personal prayer in “128,” begging forgiveness for pain caused in past relationships. Electronic church organ is joined by a choir of synthesized angelic voices as Devaney comes to an epiphanic moment. “All that I am/ All that I take/ Regrets are just choices made too late,” Devaney sings on the track.

“Walking Habits” feels like it was written from the notes to a long-lost Brian Wilson song, injected with the melodrama of a New Order track. In stark contrast to the paradisiacal vibraphone, Devaney’s layered vocal harmonies lament the lost “secrets of a life we’ll never know” from a love too-soon ripped away. Moretti’s writing on this track slips into lyrical cliches and childish tangents, but there’s such an earnest honesty to his words that even the worst of it is hard to dislike.

“Sugar and Vice” is like the sexed-up veneer of a seedy dive bar — a defining song on “Conduit.” Its choruses dance in and out of low streetlight, propelled by dirty synthwave composed of growling synthesizer and a simple driving drum machine beat. Similarly, “Atomized” digs in with a dark bass line and husky, distorted vocals. “O Please” and “City Walls” are solid but out of place — breaking the dour mood on the b-side and bringing out groovable, funky guitar “wahs” and orchestral disco — better fit for a separate LP.

“Deep Red” opens as one of the most traditional synth-pop tracks on the album, but as the track seems to wind down to an outro, the bass kicks in and tempo speeds up, winding tension before sliding into a freeing and unrestrained climax. 

Moretti and Devaney don’t break any genre barriers on machinegum’s debut but succeed by distilling and refining decades of synth-pop and new wave into a tightly-crafted album. Whether “Conduit” is a one-off piece of performance art from the machinegum collective or the start of a new musical journey for Moretti, the final result is a blast from the past that leaves you craving more.