you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

16 March 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Secret Shine | There Is Only Now.

 Release Date: March 17, 2017
Saint Marie Records

Secret Shine is the Bristol band that’s been around the block a few times, recording for both Sarah and Clairecords, and even cracking the top 20 back in 1993 with the song “Loveblind”. That’s quite a feat for a group that disappeared for a long while, leading people to think they might not return, though they reformed in 2004. Though they recorded quite a few singles and EPs right up to the mid ‘90s, fifteen years passed between their 1993 debut album (Untouched, reissued by Saint Marie Records in 2015) and their second record (All of the Stars) in 2008. And somehow, through all this time, they’ve managed to maintain their sonic shimmer and have possibly created their finest recording to date in There Is Only Now

There’s a mystery and elegance in this group’s sound, reminding me of the equally tantalizing High Violets. It’s a certain je ne sais quoi that surrounds their swirling melodies and hazy bright compositions. And it’s a welcome and refreshing change from much of the shoegaze and dreampop humdrum that passes for nu-gaze these days. It’s so easy to fall into the MBV/Slowdive trap that keeps so many bands from standing out. In fact, I can honestly say that Secret Shine sound only like themselves, only a hundred times better than in the past, due to strong compositions and great production. Having interviewed the engaging and friendly Kathryn Smith (keyboards/vocals) a few years back and then having the great pleasure of meeting her in person and seeing the band last spring at NYC Popfest, I am well and truly hooked by this band. And you should be too, after hearing the gorgeous gems they have in store for you! 

Where do I even start? You can put the needle or skip forward on the CD anywhere, and you’ll be treated to stunning dream pop and ethereal shoegaze of the best sort. But you might as well start with the glistening wonder of “Burning Stars”, a lovely confection that has Kathryn and vocalist/guitarist Dean Purnell trading vocals. The keyboards are warm and organic, and lay down a solid foundation for an already fantastic tune with pop flourishes. “All In Your Head” unfurls its majestic layers slowly, unveiling soft, dreamy vocals and a chiming, high pitched backdrop. The guitars drift slowly along before kicking the energy up on the bridge. “Dirty Game” hovers closer to post punk, save for the graceful notes from Kathryn’s keyboard playing. Dean’s sweet voice only lightens it further, but these sparkling motes are offset by slightly ominous bass and guitar. “Drift Away” is deceptively quiet, and just when you are caught up in its roller rink organ and peaceful riffs, the guitars really hit their high mark halfway through the song. I especially love Dean and Kathryn’s vocal interchange. Great!

Despite the sonic splendor of the first four songs, the dark swirl of
To the Well is my favorite track of this song cycle. It’s the song I keep returning to, sucked straight in by that throbbing bass and punctuated by keyboard chirps. It reveals a different side to the group, its gloomier textures perfectly in sync with the troubled minds and hearts of people around the globe. The almost whispered voices only add to the atmosphere, and I bet they kill it live with this track. “For You” is equally cool, a perfect example of elemental shoegaze. Ringing guitars shaded with way cool effects? Of course. Mesmerizing melodies hooking you from the get go? You bet. Be prepared to surrender to its fiery embrace. 

“Snowglobe” is more introspective and delicate, and imagine yourself walking through lightly falling snow, looking up in wonder at how it paints the landscape in silvery threads of frost. It’s the perfect soundscape for wintry nights. “Falling Again” is the type of song that makes this band so special, containing both that mysterious element and a ton of shimmer and shine overlaying it all. Lovely! “Things I Said” is a tightrope of tension and wonder, the aftermath of the type of discussion that can undo a relationship. It’s bound by a memorable chorus and is another favorite on an already excellent collection.

“Make Me You” is the final entry here, and you hate to hear it wind down. When you experience albums as fine as this one, you want to revisit it repeatedly. The band trots out all their hallmarks, glistening songcraft and heavenly vocals married to huge hooks. In short, this is a sonic lovefest for all lovers of good shoegaze and dream pop. Highly recommended!