Secret Cities

I meant to write this up a few weeks ago, but, as is the case with most ideas, I forgot about it. But now I'm here some three weeks later and I'm still listening to Pink Graffiti.

Pink Graffiti is the debut album from Fargo, North Dakota's Secret Cities. It combines orchestral bombast (think Arcade Fire's "Intervention") with soft intimacy that immediately evokes the Microphones (in my mind, at least).

The thing about Pink Graffiti that grabs me most, though, is how much texture and geography they infuse into such soft-spoken medleys. For most people, I assume, Fargo may as well be the entire northern crust of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains; and Pink Graffiti feels like it covers that same distance. And when it's on, it matches the filthy honesty of such barren land. But when it's off, it tries to shy away in a sonic niche that doesn't lend many roofs to hide under.

Secret Cities are a young group, though, and it shows. The church-choir chorus on "Slacker" sounds too Hallmark-y, like it was ripped straight from the church scene in "Home Alone" (visually, at least—I know they weren't singing this song). I think what bothers me most about it is not the sympathetic predictability of the melody, rather the unsettling dichotomy between the message and the presentation. Pink Graffiti is about a lot of things (remember, sprawling geography), but mostly it covers raw, exposed wounds. It's abandoned and clawing its way out, and the religious imagery they evoke seems like a scapegoat. Confronting problems on our own is what we're here for, and it feels like we're getting rick-rolled when we're deferred to a robed choir.

Yet, there's a point in "Pink Graffiti pt. 2" when the church-choir hums along only to set the stage for the icy, direct chorus. The ascending lead sounds desperate, tarred and remote; and I think that's the whole point of this album. The sprawled arrangements and sloping arcs are all very interesting, but that kind of brutal honesty is what an album like Pink Graffiti thrives on.

Like I said, Pink Graffiti is an awesome debut (it's stuck around for over a month, remember); and those spineless confessionals are few. But they are enough to stall the pace on a record that depends so much on its ability to carry.

Indeed, much of this album sounds like it was strummed out to act as a vehicle for conversation on a late summer night. We're all among friends, and it sounds like they've got some pretty major issues eating at their skin—and in North Dakota, who doesn't? So if we're not talking about baseball, they'd better stop pussy-footing around.

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