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Secret Cities - Strange Hearts (Album Review)

Monday, 30 May 2011 Written by Jonny Rimmer
Secret Cities - Strange Hearts (Album Review)

I was surprised to learn that Secret Cities’ sophomore effort, 'Strange Hearts', was recorded in a Kansas City basement.

ImageGiven the breezy atmosphere that endures the duration of this record, you’d be mistaken for thinking that their brand of dream pop was produced in a large hall somewhere. 
At the very nucleus of Secret Cities is a pop essence that carries through regardless of what is going on in the background. The lo-fi production technique of course can have its drawbacks, and 'Strange Hearts' as a record definitely suffers from accenting the wrong features at times. 
There is a lot to be praised about this though. Although the dream-like atmosphere is a constant, there’s a constantly evolving myriad of styles. Opening track ‘Always Friends’ has a distinct surf rock feel to it and ‘The Park’ is based around bittersweet piano. Meanwhile, ‘Love Crime’ almost sounds like a rock n’ roll group have walked in on some choral singers.  
It’s all very 60s psychedelic, which is probably the sound that the band was trying to achieve. However, it is not the light-hearted ambiance that lets Strange Hearts down at times; there’s simply not enough melodic variety.

Even after multiple listens, listeners may have trouble recalling which one is the ‘Caribbean one’ (it’s ‘No Pressure’ for the record) and which one ‘has the horns’ (‘Brief Encounters’), because despite instrumental experimentation, the same four chords are present a little too often. This is a shame, because the aforementioned ideas are good.  
As well as some strong harmonies throughout, the trio are accomplished rhythmically; the staccato rhythms and toned-down drums never sound domineering or intrusive. Ironically, this album is so airy in nature that it makes my head hurt (I’m definitely putting on some Meshuggah after this).

But for all the clever nuances that Secret Cities use, this album is too short. The strongest elements are misplaced or forgotten as soon as they appear, and rather than close the album in beautiful fashion with ‘Portland’, it all comes to a bit of an abrupt end. If Secret Cities can exploit their psychedelic charms with more song writing craft, then we might have an excellent record on our hands. 

Album Rating: 7/10

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