Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Pressure Machine, the seventh album from The Killers.
For those of us who come from small towns, where running an errand means bumping into someone you know, escaping can seem like a necessity. While some of us have moved on, it’s impossible to entirely leave behind the “you” that was shaped by a vibrant place.
Pressure Machine follows closely behind The Killer’s sixth studio album, Imploding the Mirage, which was released right in the middle of COVID-19. Like many other albums from the past year, Pressure Machine was written during a time of self-reflection and contemplation for frontman Brandon Flowers as he surveyed his own origins from his hometown of Nephi, Utah. Snippets of interview clips from the town’s residents prelude each track, giving an overview of the topics approached and a documentary-like glimpse into the environment where Flowers spent his youth.
Pressure Machine begins with “West Hills,” narrating the too-familiar cycle of never leaving the place where one grew up under the watchful gaze of fellow small town citizens while residents fall victim to heroin use in an effort to find some type of freedom. The song opens with somber, but lovely piano melodies followed by quiet twinges and strings. Flowers takes his time in the lower register before his familiar belts resound throughout the chorus.
“Quiet Town” introduces the harrowing reality of suicide amid a foreboding ambiance, so when twinkling notes branch into the song, it’s a jarring shift. For “Quiet Town,” there’s a sort of juxtaposition between the rather upbeat guitar strums and willful harmonicas as Flowers continues the album’s narrative of heartache.
“Terrible Thing” is one of the album’s few songs without a soundbite, and it’s written in the perspective of a gay teen. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Flowers spoke about the song, saying, “There were kids I grew up with who I didn’t know until years later that they were gay. It must have just been so hard.” Even amid the slower and quieter songs throughout the album, “Terrible Thing” particularly omits percussions for a focal point on the lyrics.
Moving forward in the tracklist, “Runaway Horses” features Phoebe Bridgers alongside Flowers in the chorus. Leaning into the folk nature of the album, The Killers again disclude any percussion in favor of a wound-down fingerpicking guitar. “Runaway Horses” feels more open compared to other titles on the track — primarily due to the lucid snapshots of liberty amid vast unknowns and with Bridgers’ own airy voice complementing Flowers’.
A reflection on choice, “In Another Life” is perhaps the most direct song among the titles in Pressure Machine. It’s a series of questions that force a look at the kind of path we pave for ourselves, all while lamenting the unknown aspects we never explored. It touches on a thought that circulates every person’s mind and makes the experience feel a little less lonely.
The album’s titular song, “Pressure Machine,” is distinctly different from The Killer’s previous projects. Flowers reveals his impeccable vocal skills, going from his usual range to chilling falsettos. The track’s instrumentation also works melodically with the band’s singer, following the album’s usage of finger plucking and soft strings. Lyrically, it seems to follow the journey of growing up and feeling “the time slipping away.” Like previous titles across the album, it feels like a melancholy song that puts life into a more intentional perspective.
Motifs of religion, drugs, death, nature and restlessness are unrestrained topics that pervade Pressure Machine’s tracklist. For those of us who grew up in similar environments, it hits close to home. Life exists beyond the bustling activity of urban cities. The Killers paint an evocative image of the pace and dampened life that can afflict the suburbs and rural areas. But even so, it’s beautifully done and demonstrates an unorthodox method approached by the band.