Paul Newman – Machine is Not Broken

4 out of 5

Label: My Pal God

Produced by: Jason Ward

The band / person known as Paul Newman (alphabetized under ‘P’ by my logic…), featuring dual basses, sometimes electronics, a burbling post-rock sound – with occasional, exciting forays into rock – and a mostly instrumental output – got lost in the Tortoise-ruled, Chicago sounds of the mid 90s.  But they’re not from Chicago.  They’re from Texas.  And they bear the Jason Ward production and laid back tension vibe to prove it, setting them of a very like-mind with other Texas acts that populated the Six Gun Lover label (Ghosts and Vodka come to mind), though, sure, they crossed a label path here with Dianogah, who also did the bass thing… but let’s digress.

As Paul Newman (the band) often does across Machine is Not Broken, 8 tracks of ducking and weaving low-end rumble with bright bursts of guitar and bass inter-noodling, drums fretfully paddling along in perfect time.  The title feels apt: the album chugs along frightfully tightly, but that’s in a more marvelous fashion than it sounds: imagine seeing the inner workings of such a machine – something with pistons and cogs – following the movement from one intersection to another, occasionally surprised by how various section will suddenly link up.  It’s never not interesting… although those surprises, as mentioned, are occasional, and it seems it takes about 6+ minutes to overcome the group’s somewhat chill vibe, as the best tracks are those that make it near or beyond that point, able to push a particular sound or riff to the limit and hold it there, getting wonderfully antsy for a final rush.

There are, fair enough, a goodly amount of bands that did this kind of post-rock shuffle back in the day.  Many can be traced back to some kind of Tortoise / Slint lineage or influence.  Paul Newman aren’t free of this, but they hew much closer to rock than Tortoise, while maintaining a loose and calm playing style that separates them from Slint.  And then they take that sorta-kinda sound and play it damn well, making it very much identifiably their own as a result.