So I was listening to Secret Cities third album, a real labour of love called Walk Me Home when I wondered in my mediocre-reviewer mind: “what bands could I pair them with?” Instead, I rolled a couple of D&D characters while wondering instead “what does this sound like?” I had one of those “moments of clarity”…
Well, for starters I’d go for the chamber pop gem that is The Moody Blues‘ Days of Future Passed because Secret Cities seem to have the same penchant for the baroque. Sure, there’s no grandiose orchestra backing them up, but that atmospheric sound, that dedication to a more intricate form of pop, is there, with a slight spicing of British music without ever giving up their own identity. Take the lovely piano entry for ‘The Cellar’, a song that made sure we were far away from “Pop County” and more in a stranger land, with foggy hills and a couple of mead barrels.
And I do mean “stranger land” as a compliment, because although never pulling a The Mars Volta weird-a-thon, Secret Cities do not follow a formula nor a single genre. They manage to change styles without being jarring, giving it that cohesion that always makes an album a great experience. Album opener ‘Purgatory (foolish hearts)’ includes some nifty trumpets and a very Spanish approach to acoustic guitar, opening Walk Me Home with a lot of gusto. This is followed by the mellow pop ‘Bad Trip’ and then the very British sounding ‘Paradise’, a song that weaves on the air, grabbing your hand to take you along for the ride.
Any sense of wonder and happiness you might get is dispelled with the trippy, unsettling ballroom dance that is ‘The Rooftop’, a complete change of mood that isn’t jarring in a melodic sense, but thematically, it feels a cold bucket of ice water. Secret Cities won’t hide their psychedelic influences, indulging happily on them with ‘Interlude 1’ and ‘Interlude 2’, a sort of palate cleansers spaced safely during the album’s running course.
On that same “British” sound, ‘The Cellar’ and ‘Playing with fire’ nail it down to the last teabag of Taylor’s of Harrogate (best tea in the UK, by the way.) The last three songs of the album are an interesting bunch. ‘It’s always Summer’ goes slow, almost like a saunter through busy gardens. ‘It’s always winter’ feels a little more menacing, perhaps the juxtaposition between seasons in the title implies that although they have a familiar sound to them, the feelings will be opposite. ‘Sun enclosure’ is your final palate cleansing: an instrumental trippy experimental track that’s weird (I love weird) and it retakes that suspicion I’ve had during this album: it sounds gorgeous and friendly, but is it really as sweet as it seems or is there a darker current there, cleverly buried? I want to believe in the latter but then again, I’m a fan of twist endings.
If you like Chamber Pop that is well adorned without ever going gaudy nor pretentious, Secret Cities‘ Walk Me Home is a lovely choice for your collection. Just don’t let it near a roleplaying reviewer that might steal it from you because that’s the sort of person who might overanalyse it and think there’s a deeper conspiracy hiding in a superb Baroque pop album.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López