Break out your steak knives, ‘cos you’re gonna need ‘em.
The very first thing that you notice about Secrets Are Sinister, the fourth album from New York’s Longwave, is the bass guitar. Bassist Morgan King may be the newest member of the band, but for his first go on the four-string, he is already exacting “sideman’s revenge”, as opening track “Sirens in the Deep Sea” practically explodes out of the speakers, largely due to King’s gigantic, thick, and positively juicy basslines. Yet “Sirens” most noticeable aspect isn’t the bass (as huge as it is), it’s the fact that Longwave—as chummy a post-Interpol act as you can get—have discovered that they’re sick of this mid-tempo crap. They want to do nothing more than to write rock songs and fill stadiums with them.
When the group debuted in 2001 with Endsongs, Longwave established themselves as a good, if not particularly notable, rock group, their guitar work still very poppy but still heavily indebted to their dream-rock forefathers of rock past (hello there, Mercury Rev). Upon signing to RCA and picking up the inimitable Dave Fridmann as a producer, the band wound up unleashing The Strangest Things in 2003, a remarkably consistent, strong disc of melodic guitar pop that transcended any easy labeling. Though the disc didn’t do gangbuster sales numbers, it still sold well and established Longwave as a group to be reckoned with, which, unfortunately, is something that got to their heads just a bit too easily. When There’s a Fire came out in 2005 (following 2004’s incredible Life of the Party EP), the group was diving head-on into “serious rock” territory, moving their echoing guitar motifs into Radiohead-like song structures, resulting in an album that only half-succeeded in the artistic sense, all while bombing in a commercial one.
Now with a new label (Original Signal, already proving to be a very forward-thinking imprint by having already signed the likes of Butch Walker to its ranks), the band is more than happy to shake things up. By having producer Peter Katis (The National) help man the boards, the group is showing that the “serious phase” that they exhibited during There’s a Fire was just that: a phase. When singer Steve Schiltz’s strains his voice during the pummeling “No Direction”, it’s obvious that the bands motives are now far more rock-inclined. The group relishes unleashing wild guitar solos left and right (most notably during “Shining Hours”), all while drummer Jason Molina pounds away at his set with an unbridled, caffinated fury. So different these songs are, in fact, it’s somewhat difficult to tell if this is the same group that made “Tidal Wave” ‘lo those many years ago.
Of course, amidst all the amp-blowing fury, there are still some sweet, understated moments. “The Devil and the Liar” opens with a simple guitar melody, the band soon accenting it with ricochet drum taps and ethereal vocal harmonies, making for a remarkably concise ballad. “Shining Hours”, meanwhile, is a dead ringer for Interpol (again), but the song still manages to work an atmosphere all its own without feeling too derivative. This proves to be a sharp contrast to songs like “Satellites”, in which the group plows forward with an almost punkish maw and—of course—more gigantic basslines.
Though there is still much to celebrate with the band’s return, there are still a few things that prevent this disc from reaching their previous high points. For one, with the guitars mixed so loud, Schiltz’s voice often occupies the passenger seat during most of the songs, his lyrics never making much of an impact as a result of this. Secondly, as towering as Secrets’ songs are, when placed side-by-side, they tend to blur together. Though “Eyes Like Headlights” is a good if somewhat unremarkable song by itself, its overall power is diminished by coming right off the heels of the noisy climax to “Life is Wrong”, a problem that pops its head around more than a few times during this outing.
Ultimately, though, these complaints are minor in the grand scale of things. Longwave have crafted a concise statement of purpose, the band now writing sturdy, propulsive songs where before they got sidetracked in writing “important” ones. Secrets Are Sinister is the kind of comeback album that a band like Longwave not only needs, but, surprisingly, actually deserves.
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// Notes from the Road
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