The first eight minutes of Secret Mountains’ Kaddish EP are nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll find gorgeous crescendos shimmering on both opening tracks, “Kaddish” and “Gate/Gate/Paragate,” two undeniably Baltimorean songs operating on an EP that plays more like a dream than it does music. Like Beach House and Wye Oak before them, Secret Mountains replicate a peculiar brand of euphoria, one that strikes more closely at the vein of beauty and is in touch with pure, unadulterated splendor. What we have on our hands today is a pretty damn promising debut.
At it’s best, Kaddish is a powerful narcotic; Secret Mountains’ straightforward instrumentation raises the heavens with a blunt echo, their listeners need do little to follow suit. Kaddish’s masterwork, “Gate/Gate/Paragate” resides in this state as a force of nature, it works fundamentally around an earthy chic-beat and a progression rooted in old folk. The notes have a way of testing your confidence: each count becomes a new leap of faith, falling into place like a snowflake on a bed of winter dust.
“I Have Been Awake” is Kaddish’s easy anthem, lyrics somehow mightier than the bony post-primal percussion point up the track’s attention, “I have been awake today. What have I done? What have I done?” It’s about reconciling self-knowledge and human nature, personal right, social wrong, the various cycles of life. Heavy stuff. These themes aren’t merely skimmed throughout the remainder of Kaddish either. In fact, most of the subject matter eagerly sisters with virtuous artistic abstraction. Gladly, and surprisingly, Secret Mountains have found an amiable middle ground between overzealous conceptual wankery and transparent secularism. The polished production reflects a similar position, intuitively revealing their stargazing eye sockets equally as well as their soles, planted comfortably in the soil.
What’s really impressive is that, for a home-cooked gem, Kaddish is sequenced immaculately. Sure, you’ve got the occasional mistake littered about on the flooring (which only adds to how deeply personal the EP is), but for something so homemade to sound this unified is quite simply uncalled for. Each piece moves seamlessly into the next devoid of the slightest friction; Kaddish never loses momentum between songs or within. Never. And that alone is worth being proud of.
Release date: Aug 2009
4. Growing Season
5. I Have Been Awake
All photos: Shantel Mitchell
All words: Greg Szeto
Secret Mountains started off a bit unsteady, but really grew into a precious and nicely textured bit folk pop; in particular, lead-singer Kelly Laughlin’s vocals grew really warm and full (despite having a nasty cough between songs). I’ll be on the look-out for their future work.
DC’s Deleted Scenes’ much-ballyhooed debut, Birdseed Shirt, didn’t really leave a lasting impression on me, or Alexa. But as I suspected, things really opened up for their sound live, where I got the full sense of their grand range and the broad textures used in their sound. In particular, the track “Ithaca” that I felt languished on the album, really expanded live into an appropriately grand gesture that swept you away. I really got a better sense of their refined arrangements, and the myriad small touches that make them much greater and more diverse than the average guitar-bass-synths-drums rock outfit. Add in their excellent stage energy, and I was duly impressed.
Deleted Scenes perform “Ithaca,” Live @ the Talking Head
Zaza cut the lights and seduced me like no other group on the bill. The slinky bass grooves were motivating, and played well with the crushing weight of guitar. A mere three-piece, they made effective use of loops, effects and a drum machine to amplify their sound to epic proportions, sounding more like an army than any 3 people should have a right to. While their theatrics and music may have felt a bit over the top at times, their meticulous attention to atmospherics and every seeming detail of performance right down to the sultry, swaying bassist completely absorbed you in their performance.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were almost exactly what I expected: good kids having a good time playing good tunes. Their perfectly-pop compositions rang true, sugar-y and bouncey, hitting all the right nerves. For all their shoegaze-y aspirations, I thought they were a bit timid and reserved, especially in contrast to the preceding lusciousness that was Zaza, and their precious and affected vocals turned just a bit too much out-of-tune, but overall, a respectable and satisfying set.
Thanks to Shawn Breen for catching the audio, and the band for being so kind as to grant us permission to post it. You can find excerpts from the set here.