Wow Machine

Stealing Sheep

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Wow Machine Review

by Paul Simpson

Stealing Sheep's Wow Machine was initially presented as a live installation during the Great Exhibition of the North, a two-month cultural event held in England in 2018, and the album was the first release by Both Sides Records, a label created as part of the Brighter Sounds gender equality program. It directly followed Stealing Sheep's re-imagined score for the 1973 cult classic animation La Planète Sauvage, which the band created in collaboration with members of the Radiophonic Workshop (the album's release coincided with Delia Derbyshire Day). Wow Machine is heavily inspired by Derbyshire as well as other female electronic music pioneers, including Daphne Oram, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Anderson. Entirely written and produced by the trio at their home studios, the album is structured like a miniature rocket journey, with opener "Power Up & Blast" taking several minutes to rev before a vocoder announces the record's title and a beat snaps into place. From there, the group blend quirky new wave hooks and sophisticated vocal harmonies with techno pulsations, while digging into their synths to uncover radical textures and sounds. It's the band's most experimental and futuristic album, yet it's also one of their most danceable, never forsaking playfulness for cosmic exploration. "Replicate" balances spacy vibraphone patterns with twisted vocal melodies, plunging into a whirlpool of analog synths during its breakdown. The 15-minute "Don't Think, Just Do" feels like its own miniature space mission, starting with clicking and whirring noises before settling into a deeply percussive groove, pausing for moments of reflection in between waves of the group's reassuring vocal harmonies. "Input, Output" is the most overtly trippy track, twisting spoken machine instructions through extreme pitch-shifting and flanging filters. The instrumental "Disco Italo" channels dramatic Euro-dance, draping the beat with sticky-sweet melodies and splashy effects. The "Ending Theme" is a concise reprise of the earlier "Synthetic Love Muscle" before the spacecraft returns to its home base on Earth. Even though Wow Machine was released several years after the material was composed and originally performed, it still seems like an interesting twist in the band's discography. They've come a long way from their avant-folk beginnings, and 2019's Big Wows suggested that they're at their best when embracing full-on pop music. Wow Machine is ultimately in a class of its own, a singular experience from a group who have never been afraid to challenge themselves and explore new territory.

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