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Secret Cities - Pink Graffiti

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Artist: Secret Cities

Album: Pink Graffiti

Label: Western Vinyl

Review date: Jul. 21, 2010

According to the members of Secret Cities, Pink Graffiti is about, “Brian Wilson and his work as a prism through which we view youthful things. It’s about the feelings that start with him getting all mixed up in our feelings for other people and other music (and vice versa).” Two things to note here: First, as that description makes clear, the lyrics are as much about other people’s feelings about Brian Wilson as they are about the man himself; second, and following from the first point,Pink Graffiti does not sound all that much like a Beach Boys album. His name turns up in the first single, “Boyfriends,” and Secret Cities seems to share his enthusiasm for adding slightly unconventional instrumental flourishes to pop songs, but Pink Graffiti does not otherwise seem to owe any special debt to Wilson’s work with the Beach Boys.

Instead, Pink Graffiti sounds like a more general homage to 1960s baroque pop (which, of course, traces back more indirectly to Brian Wilson). There’s heavily reverb’d vocals on “Boyfriends” and “Pink Graffiti Part 2” that are a sort of lo-fi copy of the wall of sound production technique. They employ the same style on “Slacker,” a piano-and-strings song with several overlapping vocal tracks from singer Marie Parker. This fascination with 1960s-era psychedelia isn’t surprising, even though Pink Graffiti is technically the first album from Secret Cities. Parker and Charlie Gokey previously released a similar album of classically orchestrated pop under the name White Foliage. After adding drummer Alex Abnos to the band, they changed their name and spent a couple of years working on the material on the current album in their native North Dakota.

The instrumentation on Pink Graffiti is often elaborate and it’s complemented by the use of sound loops and production effects that used to be seen only at the high end of the production spectrum. Given the current state of recording technology, however, it’s no longer all that surprising for a band working mostly on their own to release an album with complicated arrangements and a full complement of studio effects. These albums tend to stand or fall not on how innovative or groundbreaking they are, but rather on how good the songwriting is.

On that count, Secret Cities do quite well for themselves. Take for example “Pink Graffiti Part 1,” the best song on the album. It stands out not because of the looped sound at the beginning, or the thundering drums, or because it has a vibraphone and whistling, but rather because it has a driving rhythm and a simple, memorable melody. “Boyfriends” is likely the first single because it’s got the biggest chorus, not because it encapsulates the themes of the album. Pink Graffiti is a strong album, and one that grows on you the more you listen to it. Your opinion of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys probably won’t affect your judgment of it all that much.

By Tom Zimpleman

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