Editors' pick

Secret Cities


Editorial Review

Album review: "Strange Hearts"

Melding Caribbean lilt, lo-fi psychedelia and doo-wop harmonies, Secret Cities sounds as if it could hail from just about anyplace except its actual home town: Fargo, N.D.

The group’s second full-length release, “Strange Hearts,” recorded in the basement of an empty Kansas City bank, is packed with sounds and swathed in echo. But on such songs as “The Park,” M.J. Parker’s soprano cuts assuredly through the atmospherics.

It’s not surprising that Parker and co-founder Charlie Gokey met in band camp. Secret Cities embraces indie-pop’s current band-nerd aesthetic of busy arrangements and diverse timbres. Jaunty acoustic guitar and bouncy drums anchor most of these 11 songs — a few of them mere wisps — but piano, bass, horns or electronics occasionally take precedence. Above it all are the voices, alternately evoking outer space or the 1950s.

Unlike traditional vocal-harmony groups, this trio (which expands to a quartet onstage) doesn’t assign specific roles; it sounds as if both Parker and Gokey sing some high parts. Yet the results are not muddled — or at least no more muddled than this haze-loving band intends. If some of these tracks are just spun sugar, such tunes as “Pebbles” and “Portland” are both sweet and substantial.

— Mark Jenkins, June 10, 2011