Identity crisis Secret Cities isn’t quite sure what it wants to be yet. One minute the North Dakota-based threesome is making aching, melodramatic stompers, and the next they’re playing blissful dream-pop. Take Pink Graffiti’s first two tracks; “Pink City” is a pumped-up, town-skipping anthem, mathematically designed to make you restless, but before you can hop out of your seat, the cartoonishly earnest “Boyfriends” catches you off guard.
Dear Secret Cities, I know you’re all comfortable returning to your Fargo, North Dakota home and stuff, but let me ask you an urgent question real quick. Can you please, PLEASE pull an about-face and come back to Atlanta, Georgia? See, today I discovered Pink Graffiti, your debut album (as Secret Cities, that is, not as Parker and Gokay or as The White Foliage). I mean, it only came out like a month ago, right? I’m not that far behind.
For the most part, rock music tends to portray places like Secret Cities' homebase of Fargo, N.D., as stifling, creativity-crushing hellholes that are valued only as sights in one's rearview. It's no wonder that the Midwest harbors a ton of bands shot through with desperation and urgency, but what's instantly notable about Secret Cities' debut, Pink Graffiti, is how it unintentionally mirrors flyover country's pace of life despite never mentioning it by name: it's unhurried, friendly, and welcoming of anyone who chooses to stop by, without being particularly pushy. That's not to say it's lazy or lacks urgency.
Many artists spend their entire careers attempting to step out from the shadow of their forebears. Bloc Party from Gang of Four; Interpol from Editors from Joy Division; The Drums from... well, everyone; we've all heard them, and whether such comparisons originate from lazy journalism, your own attentive ears or a lone, anonymous naysayer on a YouTube comment box or music forum, they have a habit of sticking in your mind.
Long-distance, collaborative music may be a romantic idea, but there are some serious limitations that come with the territory. Secret Cities is a band that started out as a project between M.J. Parker and Charlie Gokay, who exchanged ideas and cassette tapes while on opposite sides of North Dakota. While certainly the archaic-ness of the snail-mail effort got some creativity flowing, no clear songwriter developed, and it shows on the band’s sophomore effort, Pink Graffiti.For such a young band, the poor sound quality could be forgivable (certainly given the current lo-fi craze), but the album ostensibly sounds like a demo.
Secret Cities informs us that Pink Graffiti is a quasi-concept album about Brian Wilson and young people. While it’s well-written, it’s largely unnecessary; you’ll have a hard time understanding a lot of the words on this album, much less a narrative about the great Brian Wilson. This album could be about water-skiing and you’d have no right to argue either way.