Monday, April 04, 2016

CD Review: Deep Sea Diver - Secrets

Deep Sea Diver
(High Beam)

Ever get that feeling when listening to the opening riff of a song where you can't figure out exactly where the beat falls? The Cars' "Let the Good Times Roll" did it to me for decades. Between the off-beat accents from the guitar, syn-drums and the rhythm of the vocal, the two and the four escaped me until the drums kick in.

A slightly different, but equally beguiling feeling greets you at the start of "Notice Me," the opening track of Secrets. The guitar plucks out an angular melody, with several of the notes slightly muffled. It feels like an odd time signature, since the balance keeps shifting. But once Jessica Dobson starts singing and the drums gently assert the beat, the song clearly settles into 4/4. Somehow that guitar seems to have it both ways, playing off the beat but staying within it by playing triplets . It makes a brash opening to an album full of moments that feel a bit unsettling while they still come off as catchy ear candy.

Dobson has been a support player for a number of major bands, most recently the Shins, as well as Beck, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Spoon. If Secrets (DSD's sophomore album) proves anything, she needs to stay in the spotlight, not in the shadows or on the side.

Parts of the album recall St. Vincent's layered arrangements of keyboard washes and guitars that are sometimes free of effects but full of scrappy power chords. The songs have pop elements to them, which the band has developed in the studio, adding some synth sounds that tip the hat to '80s new wave. In a way they recall Merge Records' Hospitality on their Trouble album, which toyed with the indie pop template by adding all sorts of production tricks to embellish the songs. Dobson also has a unique way of phasing, like Hospitality's Amber Papini, that makes her lyrics feel a little more oblique. For example, the seemingly optimistic, piano-driven "New Day" closes the album with the lyric, "I'm alone on a new day/ 'cause you're with someone else," before ending on a Beatle-esque/jazz chord. The way she stretches the line out, it's easy to miss the whole idea without hanging on her every syllable.

One of the most inviting qualities of Secrets is the way Dobson and her crew never stay with one style for too long.  Half of "Wide Awake" is given over to six-string noise over a chugging bass groove. "Body on the Tracks" also climaxes with a single-note guitar solo. "See These Eyes" could be a riff inspired by Dobson's time in Spoon. While "Notice Me" toys with a standard rhythm, "It Takes a Moment" adds an extra beat to the riff, still rocking hard with gnarled guitar work (courtesy of the singer, by the way).

A good blend of arty noise and groovy tendencies, Secrets should not be left to the musical cognoscenti hiding in the shadows.

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