The Verge: Secret Cities

Secret Cities‘ band name suggests forgotten locales, overrun by flora and fauna, eroded by the passage of time. Their music, while not as dire, toys with all things nostalgic and exotic that their name suggests.

Secret Cities was formed by friends – and singers/multi-instrumentalists – Charlie Gokey and Marie “MJ” Parker when they were 15. Growing up at opposite ends of North Dakota, the two traded four-track tape recordings before recruiting drummer Alex Abnos to round out the band, then called the White Foliage. A move to Fargo, a few minor releases and a name change later, the White Foliage became Secret Cities.

Their first record, Pink Graffiti, was released in 2010. It is less folky and more immediate than their work as the White Foliage, stringing together elements from baroque pop and indie rock. Gokey and Parker exchange time on the mic; the male/female vocal dynamic provides a familiar, comforting aspect to the music. Pink Graffiti alternates between the dreamy gaze of tracks like “Aw, Rats” and the hook-driven, xylophone-and-handclap jam “Color.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sc_awrats.mp3″ text=”Secret Cities – Aw, Rats” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sc_color.mp3″ text=”Secret Cities – Color” dl=0]

After touring to support Pink Graffiti, the band hunkered down in the basement of an abandoned Kansas City bank to record its follow-up, Strange Hearts. The record is more airy and lo-fi than Pink Graffiti, yet warmer and more approachable. It is 30 minutes of 60s-styled pop hooks, from the opener, the sunny, Afrobeat rocker “Always Friends,” to the closer, the bouncy “Portland” (which sounds like Matt and Kim-lite). As comforting as that can be, Secret Cities is at their best playing with the formula a bit, like on “The Park.” A piano ballad in the style of Carole King by-way-of Feist, “The Park” lets Parker truly shine.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sc_thepark.mp3″ text=”Secret Cities – The Park” dl=0]

The video for “Always Friends” uses a split-screen, double-sided narrative of high school romance to capture the essence of the song, and that of the album: a full spectrum of emotions, with the warm tinge of nostalgia.

Catch Secret Cities at Comet Ping Pong on Monday, June 13, with Mercies and Paperhaus.

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