Secret Season – Love is the Only Game in Town
It’s an uninformed mistake to assume a four piece or more band is the ideal configuration for rock music. The history of popular music is littered with the stories of legendary power trios and duos with tremendous talent and musical vision. Their influence, often times just as immense as those exerted by larger ensembles, is felt on duos like Secret Season. Mark Moogalian and Isabelle Risacher have written and recorded four albums possessing a signature sound with few antecedents in modern music. They incorporate an impressive array of American musical influences while maintaining a tangible European flavor reflected in its theatrical aspects. The production emphasizes atmospherics over clarity, but each instrument is well rendered in the mix.
There’s a remarkable consistency to the album. Songs like the title track, “She’s So Mysterious”, “Linen White”, and “She’s a Spy” are wonderfully stylized examples of high brow art rock. Moogalian is an expert at transmuting the classic blues guitar sound into fresher textures that, nevertheless, retain the distinctive sonic touches common to their respective forms. The title track is the most lyrically involved of the four songs and shows off a strong mix of the duo’s narrative skills and imagery. The key to this song, however, as elsewhere is Moogalian and Risacher’s ability to dramatize those lyrics through deeply felt performances and thoughtful phrasing. Secret Season brings a harder edge to the proceedings through their percussion on the songs “Show Me What You’ve Got” and “When I Saw Jesus”. The former is the more aggressive of the two, tailored nicely to the song’s title and theme, while the latter track offers listeners their best evidence yet of a dark sense of humor lurking beneath some of their lyrics. Their continued insistence on presenting their songs with substantive backing tracks while lightening the lyric mood creates an interesting tension as well.
“Exhibit A” finds the duo working further afield from formula than elsewhere on the album. Secret Season intersperses imaginative passages of percussion with unpredictable, free-floating passages and it has a pleasingly disorienting effect on the listener. Risacher’s keyboard and synthesizer playing is an underrated component of the album’s success and nowhere is that more apparent than on this track. Secret Season returns to a darkly comedic stance on the track “Mean Streak”. It falls well in line with the album’s numerous musings on the vagaries of love and has the same stylized quality distinguishing songs like the title track. “I Wanna Be With You” is a wonderful alt pop rocker with tremendous melodic virtues, but enough grit and gravitas to still retain its rock and roll creditability. This last point emphasizes another of the album’s core strengths – the fleet footed balancing act they pull off moving between sinewy rock, artistic ambition, and pure pop songwriting. Love is the Only Game in Town is one of the year’s most satisfying listens with no major flaws and an uniformity of sound that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
9 out of 10 stars.