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Date: June, 2008

A Broke Machine CD Review

Without spoiling my review of Terami Hirsch’s latest offering, I can safely say that A Broke Machine is the most critical record in Terami’s musical career. The album, which was released under Madstone Records on April 15, 2008, single-handedly abolishes the notions of comparison with other artists from her previous records and establishes Terami firmly in her own niche in the music biz. What happens from here, perhaps we’ll figure out three years from now (hopefully earlier). For now, let’s take a closer look at A Broke Machine.

There is a sense of excitement within the first notes of the opening track, Back To The Start. Perhaps it is because I have been looking forward to the new record for quite a while now. Then the drumbeats came in… Something is different. The excitement did not end. It was a slow revelation: from the intensely-melodic verses building up to the climactic chorus. Intricately-layered vocal harmonies and keyboards along with the masterfully-played drums (love the ending drumbeats!) account for the rich sound of this par excellence alterna-pop track. Yes you heard me; I did say pop in there. That’s not bad now is it? I should point out that this song is one of the more accessible tracks Terami has done so far. It is in the realms of pop but it is pure bliss. “If there is a new world, I want to set sail! If there is a new world, I'm gonna get there!” – Indeed I believe Terami did, and it is towards a brave new musical path.

I’m ready to be surprised. The opening track roused my musical senses and I’m hungry for more. The track Help Me comes next. While it remains accessible, Terami successfully coupled it with an oddball. The drum sample raise a sense of discord graciously spattered throughout the track. It takes the song to a whole new level. It is an unsettling, provocative, and marvelously haunting piece of musical art. The lyric is perfectly fitting. “Help me now / Tightly strung or unbound / I must keep to the beat, To the measures that are measuring me.” - It is exactly these oddly-measured beats that set this track apart from being just another pretty song in the record.

If there’s one thing I learned from listening to Terami’s previous records, it is about unpredictability. Fable Moon takes us to a whole new genre, one that is in the realm of jazz / lounge. This third track reveals yet another transformation with Terami, the voice. It can possibly be attributed to the fact that Terami took a bit of voice lessons recently. The sultry and sensually-enticing vocal work in this track blends in naturally with the song structure / genre.

Just when I think that Terami is falling a bit into the comfort zone with the previous track, Fable Moon, comes another oddball. Chains Of Andromeda once again anchors us back to the eccentricity of Terami’s craft. The vocal work is quite playful and showcases impeccable high notes. The programmed sample loop holds quite a tension throughout the track, like the chains that bind Andromeda. I can’t help but admire Terami for drawing out such emotions via simple loops.

The heartfelt title-track ballad, A Broke Machine, amazes us next with wonderfully played piano and background of cello. The austerity and serenity of the melody coupled with the restrained vocal work effectively tugs the heartstrings. This track is a throw back to the early years, devoid of electronic sounds.

Nothing could have possibly prepared me for what lay next, especially after the slow nature of the previous track. The way I look at it, I consider A Broke Machine the calm before the storm, which is the track titled What I Didn’t See. What I didn’t see coming is the most aggressive song Terami has written so far. This track made effective use of the band to produce a rich multi-layered accompaniment. The bass line, drums and the keyboards plus the surprisingly rock-tinged vocals by Terami give life to this stellar almost-progressive-rock track. Now, excuse me as I headbang my way to the next track…

The rollercoaster ride continues as the next track, Diagram Of Love, lulls its way into my already-candy-filled ears. And while I wasn’t exactly thrilled by how the track started out, by the time Terami was belting out the high notes I changed my mind. It took another listen to uncover the hidden gem. It is a slow burn but once it gets your attention you’ll come to appreciate the luster of this track.

Breaking away from the slow-to-aggressive pattern, the next track titled The Collector is an enchanting ballad. I love how there are electronic sounds incorporated in the song rather than being a strictly piano-based ballad. Danceable groove and rhythm picks up the pace in the next track, Battle For Infinite Time. It is so weird to hear this track without the electronic sound that drives the beats in the original recording.

Another masterful craft combining a slow ballad with just the right mix of electronic sound is presented in the song Better Times. It is also worth noting that this song, without the electronic sound, can stand by itself as an exquisitely-constructed and highly melodic ballad. In this case, I think both versions work depending on the mood.

The highly energetic and aggressive track, Wasteland, comes in next. This ranks as the most accessible track Terami has ever written. It has “radio-hit single” written all over it. The melody is superb and the arrangement with the electronic sound gives it a modern alternative-rock edge. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this will hook almost anyone, fan or not, by the first listen. It is intense, modern-sounding, edgy, and it quite simply rocks my socks off!

A simple ballad highly accentuated with a bit of operatic-type vocal delivery of the high notes in the chorus part is in display in the next track, A Hundred Flowers. It would have been easy to dismiss this song as an average track except that the vocal work is truly a standout. Once again, electronic sound is employed to create a tension that is intricately-infused in the last track, I Am Going To Sleep. To describe this track in three words, I Am Going To Sleep is a “lullaby in dissonance.”

You may remember that Terami Hirsch made it in to our top 10 artists to watch out for in 2008. Hearing A Broke Machine and reviewing it in its entirety vindicated our decision to include her in that list. As some may say, every album is critical to an artist’s career, but at some point artists shed their influences to bare a unique sound of their own. Call it finding their “musical identity” if you will. For me, A Broke Machine is that record where Terami finally presents herself as more than an artist who was once compared to bigger acts like Kate Bush or Tori Amos. It contains a crossover of genres but in one way or another, whether it is in the way she incorporates electronic sound or through that distinct vocal work or even her total disregard for anything conventional, it is identifiably Terami. Purists may disagree but allow me to finalize my review with the statement: A Broke Machine is the definitive Terami Hirsch album.