Music

The Autumn Rhythm: Secret Songs

Justin Cober-Lake

The Autumn Rhythm

Secret Songs

Label: Midriff
US Release Date: 2003-09-27
Amazon
iTunes

Boston's Valerie Allen and Eli Queen met in high school, fell in love, and formed the Autumn Rhythm, which is basically Allen singing and playing guitar while Queen plays bass. Their debut release Secret Songs features 10 tracks and 28 minutes of simple guitar lines, soft-but-commanding vocals, and little else. Yo La Tengo immediately springs to mind, but the Autumn Rhythm's just not that good or interesting. It also stays far more subdued (like And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out Yo La), and never raises its voice above a sad whisper. However, it's probably unfair to compare these newcomers to indie stars, especially when the band's projects do differ.

The Autumn Rhythm centers on Allen's vocals. She's got a lovely voice, and she's emotive without being melodramatic. The restraint serves her well at times, but also lends to the general monotony of Secret Songs. With a sound like Sinead O'Connor's, Allen has the potential for a quality performance, but this disc isn't the one. Her lyrics are moving when intelligible, but too easily lost.

The music, too, is an easy take. The hooks and melodies lie over basic arpeggiated guitar parts. At its best, the Autumn Rhythm sounds like Luna or Galaxie 500. It too frequently fails to catch the "pop" part of "dream pop", however, and weights the eyes more frequently than something this light should. As background couch music, it's fine, but it's not varied enough to hold one's attention.

One of the tracks worth paying attention to is "Bury Me Standing", which is itself buried late in the sequence. It begins with the by-now-usual guitar work, but the heavy drum pulse adds an important element. At the two-minute mark, the guitar starts a steady crescendo accompanied by cymbal taps. Just when you need a release, the band drops back into its verse, and Allen finishes her narrative.

On the next track, "Afraid to Fall", Allen sings about the fear of losing something good. She shows the power of inertia in the dualistic line: "I'm sorry, but I haven't done anything at all". At one moment, it's an apology from the guiltless; the next, it sounds like an apology for being frozen by fear. It does not contain the most original sentiment, but "Afraid to Fall" is a direct and appealing song, the type that only a band as willing to be as vulnerable as the Autumn Rhythm can produce.

A track like "Afraid to Fall" is easy to miss, though, because nothing noticeably separates it from the surrounding nine songs. It would be very difficult to describe any song on this album with the phrase "the one where", because the tracks are all the ones where the same old things happen. The songs have sadness, wistfulness, and anxiety, but each of these sound the same, and that's a problem.

The Autumn Rhythm is named for a Jackson Pollock painting, one of those splatter-works that at first glance look the other splatters, until you look closely at them and see the details: the use of color, the structure, the overall mood. I'd like to say that I had an epiphany about Secret Songs in which I realized the subtle nuances of each track, and pulled out the differences. I'm a bit of a fibber, but not that much of one.

It's funny to think of Pollock painting being alluded to by a band this subdued. His other painting that I associate with music is White Light, which is part of the cover of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. On that album, Coleman and his double-quartet take risks, experiment, and generally run amok. Pollock's painting sounds much more like a Coleman run than an Autumn Rhythm drone. I'm not suggesting a band has to sound like a painting looks -- just that it should sound like something.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.