Secret Cities – Strange Hearts

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Just last year it seemed like Fargo’s Secret Cities were pleasing us with their album Pink Graffiti, but it’s been a little over a year, and they’ve already got a new one, Strange Hearts, being released by the great Austin label Western Vinyl.  Not a great deal has changed on this run around, but you’ll definitely hear the sounds of a band sounding a lot more confident with their sound, not to mention their ability to create varying nuances in their writing.

While you can easily say that album opener “Always Friends” is reminiscent of Grizzly Bear‘s work, this isn’t mimicry by any means.  Guitar sound is a lot cleaner, almost light-hearted tropicalia in nature, and the vocals have a bit of an echo, though not that occasionally overbearing choir sound.  You see, the band have stepped up their game, expanding on what we knew them to be, allowing them to be more playful when they wish (listen for the whistling) throughout Strange Hearts.

Coming on as a great surprise is “The Park” where Marie Parker takes bloom.  Her appearance is loaded with gentle piano and a nice little shaker used for percussive elements, just before the songs blooms into pure chamber ecstasy.  Interestingly, the Secret Cities even mix it up mid-track, as the pace of the song jumps up.  All in all, it’s one of the most successful tracks, and one that many people will surely put on their latest mixtapes. You can match it up with the sweet, but short, “No Pressure,” which again utilizes the strengthened voice of Parker, showing a definite maturation in her performance.

Coming upon “Strange Heart” you’ll find the band really working to fill out the various textures within a singe track.  Instruments and harmonies seem to be working against one another, yet conceptually the idea comes together masterfully, providing a delicate lushness to the group’s sound.  And, if you’re going to look into keys that make such tracks successful, you have to give it up to the production, which almost allows for listeners to hear the exact strumming of strings just as sound hits your ear; it’s an oft-overlooked affect, and one you’ll hopefully find endearing.  But amidst Strange Hearts and the depth emphasized in the band’s growth is one gem of a track that seems to play over and over again, “Forest of Love.”  Perhaps its due to the upbeat nature of the track, similar to the album’s opener, or the entire arrangement, but whatever you find hiding for you in this record, surely this song is going to have something for everyone.  And, it walks right into “Portland” in such a powerful way that you’re left reeling from the emotion that comes with listening to such an enjoyable sequence of song.

Having put out Strange Hearts in such quick succession to Pink Graffiti definitely could have had it’s downfall; the band might have rushed too fast, and not given attention to details, as one would want. Such is not the case here, as you’ll see when you go pick up the most recent outing from Secret Cities.  It’s filled with clever arrangements and the care of creativity that makes moderately good albums, great.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/04-Love-Crime-1.mp3]

Download: Secret Cities – Love Crime [MP3]

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