You will meet all the guest writers soon enough, but first up is Anas al-Horani, who resides in Amman, Jordan. Not only does Anas have a keen ear for great gaze, but he's also one of the smartest and coolest people we know. Welcome to When The Sun Hits, Anas!
Review by: Anas al-Horani.
Album Rating: (4 out of 5)
Artist: Secret Shine.
Album: The Beginning and the End.
Release Date: Dec. 25, 2010.
Label: Self Released.
Secret Shine’s latest effort, The Beginning and the End, is a good one. (Readers: How good, you ask?) It’s so good that this record could actually be called The Good Secret Shine Record. No, though what I’m saying might carry some hints of sarcasm, I want you to take the review seriously. This is everything you’d expect from a Secret Shine record, all in equally good measures. It’s not a flawless record however (this LP could not be called The Great Secret Shine Record) but its flaws are easily dismissible amid the overflow of recurring magnificence.
Subtlety was never Secret Shine’s strong point. The lead singer, Scott Purnell (read WTSH's interview with Scott Purnell HERE) even played in the Sarah Record’s 1995 farewell party in a handmade t-shirt reading “My Bloody Secret Shine”. It was a time when almost every relatively unknown band sailed right through the winds of the obscure and almost-unlistenable Shoegaze genre (yes, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything was thought to be “borderline unlistenable” according to some mainstream reviewers, alas). Bands like The Field Mice picked up on shoegaze and dance music both, creating their own saccharine sound, while bands such as Lilys and Secret Shine attempted to turn the heavy fuzz of washed out noise and reverb into something slightly more listenable and approachable, not to the loyal fans of noisy, messy shoegaze necessarily, but to – well – the misunderstanding majority who thought that shoegaze was just another pretentious art-rock fad. Creating such a melodic mix of chaos and noise was a relatively novel idea at the time, and Secret Shine (along with Lilys) were amongst the first bands to take the first step in creating what is now known as “nu-gaze”.
In 1996, three years after they released their first album, Untouched, Secret Shine disappeared… In 2004, the band’s drummer, Tim Morris died. The band got back together again and recorded the 8-song, acoustic Morris album, which was lovely but unremarkable.
In 2008, they released All Of The Stars. By the time All Of The Stars was released, I’m sure most of the fans were delighted to hear again of a band they almost forgot existed, and the even more loyal ones had a what-the-hell moment when they actually heard the album. No, it wasn’t bad, far from that actually - but it was as if Secret Shine had been embalmed since 1996 and were brought to life in 2008. Their music was the same as ever. The same My Bloody Valentine plus Slowdive mix, with doses of fine songwriting and (many) original hooks here and there, but it was somewhat off-putting, I have to admit. As if their music was in a state of permanent paralysis.
In 2010, however, The Beginning And The End was released.
When I first listened to this album my thoughts were scattered, almost in a haiku fashion. The opening track, "In Between", follows the familiar track of heavy-synth-ridden shoegaze and an exquisite assault of loud guitars and drums, followed by equally charming but slower in pace "Perfect Life", which tells the story of a car-crash survivor, but one would swear the song’s meanings are way more universal than that. The album slows down, heavy on electronics and walls of noise, and the record is already sinking comfortably into your consciousness.
Secret Shine. Perfect Life.
"Run Around", though, is one of the album’s weaker moments, a try on something similar to MBV’s "Lose My Breath" in fashion, albeit the heavy electronics and the overly pronounced sound. "No More Inside" is a smart take on My Bloody Valentine’s minor key arrangements of "Empty Inside" (A friend of mine even called the similarity ‘scary’ – though it really isn’t. It’s simply smart); powerfully and effectively, the drums have the key role in riding this song through 3:50 minutes of bliss. "Harry" is a musical interlude that is both lazy and dismissible, followed by magnificent "Hole In The Heart", one of the best and most uplifting Secret Shine moments yet, along with the following "Windmill Hill", which is enigmatic yet surprisingly consistent.
Secret Shine. Every Thought.
But allow me to linger on the record’s faults, might it justify my rating and my harsh commentary on "Run Around" and "Harry".
In both "Run Around" and "Harry" the sound is so inflated and over-bloated that you can almost hear every instrument at work. In an art genre known for solemn subtlety (which My Bloody Valentine mastered on the other hand), this can be a very grave mistake, especially if every sound gesture seems to become a lecture, forcing its sleek production unto your ears. And before you yell ‘Capitalism made me do it!’ let me assure you that this technique works perfectly well in faster moments such as "No More Inside" and the opening track, "In Between", and it is exactly what makes this record the special one it is. However, on the final two closing tracks, "Touching Nothing" and "Trying To Catch The End" which are as close to pop as shoegaze can be, it falls short, sounding too slow, too derivative (I can almost swear that Neil Halstead of Slowdive was the one playing guitar on "Touching Nothing") … and too precious.
As I said earlier, this is not a bad album at all. It’s actually a very good and recommendable one. This is everything you’d expect from a shoegaze record, and a Secret Shine one to be specific. However, it’s a further proof to me that Secret Shine are way better when they play faster, and that they should definitely reconsider their production values.