Indie-pop angsters Secret Rivals have followed the crowd-funding route for their debut album, and this reflects their aural aesthetic – no-nonsense DIY tales of domestic struggles – really quite well.
The first song, This Tragedy Writes Itself, is a sort of proto-Placebo with its single synth line, vocals and bass line meandering into each other, overlaid with dissonant chords. The stand-out track is last year’s single Once More With Heart, its intro betraying their love of The Cure and its lyrics seemingly epitomising the album’s themes (Clouds’s “I’ll decide when you’ve had enough” is almost spat).
The most striking aspect of their sound is the Clouds-Jay female-male vocal dynamic: while the former comes across tender but strong, the latter seems obstinate and vulnerable, giving that uncomfortably tense feeling of being stuck in a room with a quarrelling couple (putting the listener in the position of drummer Reece, presumably). Bits of their delivery in Panic/Don’t Panic even remind me of John Lydon’s neurotic and agitated Public Image Ltd yelping.
The repetitive hooks are great for jumping about wildly to – the physical energy that must have been exerted in the recording is so palpable that it feels that mere listening is not enough. While some acts show so little conviction in their live performance that it comes across as little more than a marketing tool, the full Secret Rivals experience demands a live viewing.
A degree of scrappiness is pervasive; there’s charm in exuberance, but the charm in flailing around can wear thin after a while, and that’s where this album often veers. Their predilection for vocal melodies based on chord triads gets a bit wearing after a while too. However, despite the nagging hooks, no song’s point is overlaboured or welcome outstayed, the nine of them weighing in at a Ramones-esque 29 minutes.
The album ends with the title track, an acoustic, Jay-led near-ballad that sounds unlike the other songs but which sums everything up nicely, with an air of resignation in reconciliation: “How come I’m the one who always ends up undone?” – the way arguments often end.
From Nightshift, May 2013