Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Secret



How long should a band take between their first and second albums ? For most bands, the answer is pretty easy - probably about a hundred years, accompanied by a stern rebuke for having put out the first one at all. Other artists, however, can leave it far too long - we get worried if Eskiboy hasn't put any long-player out for more than about three months, and there are plenty of combos stuck on the "one" mark at the moment who could do with pulling their fingers out (are we alone in dreaming that the Shop Assistants could reform, er, again, and put us out of our misery...?)

The great Terrorizer managed to leave it 17 years before recording what even Brits (well, lazy Brit journalists) are now prone to call a "sophomore" effort: yet that proved rather too long as it transpired, as while their second record, "Darker Days Ahead", was pretty great, it perhaps said it all that one of the best tracks on it was "Dead Shall Rise '06", a re-recording of a ditty that had been on their seminal "World Downfall" debut back in '89. For Bristol swoongazers Secret Shine, the gap between Sarah eight-tracker "Untouched" and Clairecords newie "All Of The Stars" is a cool sixteen years - so would this prove to be the same kind of gentle disappointment ?

Well, on first listening, the jury was out: after so long, it can be quite hard to reconnect with what you love about any given band, and the Shine had inadvertently handicapped themselves by putting out such an immediate, strong comeback single ("Elemental") in the cold of early 2006. They'd also reminded us of how durable some of the older tunes turned out to be when they brought some into their set at the Water Rats an autumn or two ago. But on re-spinning "All Of The Stars", we soon found ourselves locking back into their groove, as those sweeping hi-altitude boy/girl vocal harmonies made their mark over the trademark quiet-loud passages and sweetly distorted guitar oscillations. In particular, we remembered that you always had to accept the stucco swirls of the slower, quieter passages as a prelude to the the sublime rushes of noise they bookended, the moments when the guitars began to crackle with energy and the hairs on the nape of your neck stood to attention.

We're sure we remember someone telling us once that Secret Shine's lyrics were inspired by Keats, but you'll be used to us recycling pub talk as musical lore, so we can't swear to the truth of that (or, indeed, speculate as to what either the band, or Keats himself, would make of the allegation). What is true is that the words - for a band that deploy the vocals, especially Kathryn's, almost as instruments in themselves - seem to fit in just fine with the swathes of fuzzy melody on offer. And so by the time we revisited "Oblivion" (track eight) it was as if they'd never been away, the chorus delivering a doughty reminder of the cobweb-blowing away cascades of past faves from "Untouched", like "Towards The Sky" or "Underworld". Indeed, in some ways "All Of The Stars" is more consistent than "Untouched", which at times ("Spellbound", maybe ?) hadn't itself quite built on the feral brilliance of "Loveblind" (you - know we love it - always will do - etc etc). So "All Of The Stars" gives us longer, brooding numbers like "Voice Of The Sea" and "Cafe Crash" as well as the slightly rockier "Hate To See You Smile" (a nice companion piece to the Airfields' "Never See You Smile"). And the bouncier verse of the closing, bristling "The Sound Of Light" sees them meeting Stereolab halfway, before they amp things up for the refrain. Plus, unlike Terrorizer, Secret Shine haven't had to fall back on re-recording any of their classics from '92.

Finally, a from-the-heart postscript to Secret Shine arrivistes: the first couple of Secret Shine singles (one 7" on Sarah, another on A Turntable Friend) are often dismissed as being a bit watery or inconsequential (even described by the band themselves as "soulless") because they maxed on the jangle, and pre-dated the veer towards ethereal Creation-style noise that started perhaps with "Honeysweet". But, much as we love them for what they've done since, we'll always be fond of "After Years", "Snowfall Sorrow" and "Unbearable", so don't you be afraid to seek them out and stand up for them too. Then, maybe one day, they might get reissued or something, and we can give the vinyl copies a well-earned rest.