Monday, August 29, 2011

Explorers of Greatness

Now, something I was planning to write months ago but everything else got in the way. Secret Powers caught my attention with their second album ..and the Electric Family Choir (2009) already in the spring. Soon the band earned a place in my heart and all I could listen to was that strangely named album... I had to get more stuff from the band so I ordered everything the band had released. After a recording career of four years there are already four albums available which is admirable in its own right. Not only are Secret Powers prolific, they also create high quality pop suitable for anyone who enjoys traditional '60s-influenced pop music.

Secret Powers mix elements from the Beatles and ELO with genuine songwriting talent, really good lyrics and gorgeous sounds and arrangements. Explorers of Solar Eclipse (2008) is the first album by Secret Powers and it is indeed a great debut album. The cover is snowy and arctic and it somewhat describes the mood of the album: fresh, bright sounds with a melancholic, yet hopeful feeling. I often find myself comparing Secret Powers to Wondermints. In a way the Wondermints debut album comes to mind, even though Secret Powers music is not equally dreamy. Still, there are similar cleverly constructed Beatles references – it also has to be pointed out that the band's own voice is also very strong.

Compared to the later albums this one is more Shmedly-oriented. Band leader Ryan “Shmed(ly)” Maynes is responsible for all composing work with the exception of Kitty on the Brain (written by Troy Warling). He also sings lead most of the time and does a good job with his gravelly yet melodic voice. Smedly's piano is also one of the dominant elements on the album, making the music even have some similarity to Keane's piano pop at times (just listen to Jenny). There are of course guitars, too, and actually the piano/keys make a very balanced combination with guitars.

We Are Alone is a perfect opener with lots of bouncy groove, ELO-like piano and sounds layered with style. Awfully Nice and Place I Can Breathe are all strong, catchy songs that explore the ever so interesting world of semi-happy, semi-melancholic music. Counting Stars (hear that drive!) represents Smedly's interesting way of occasionally writing songs that, in my opinion, don't seem to have very conventional choruses. Therefore the chorus of Counting Stars sounds to me more like a bridge. Anyway, this bridge-like chorus is really cool and makes the song all the more interesting – not to mention the long instrumental solo with cool background vocals in the end!

Rose repserents the typical Secret Powers ballad. Magical it is, indeed.. Similar, possibly even more lovely and gentle ballads can be heard on the later albums. There is strong material even at the very end of the album. Funniest Girl in the World is a melancholic schlager with accordion and jazzy piano. The final song Walking with That Doll has the magical, soft Secret Powers harmonies that I bet anyone would enjoy.

Generally speaking, Explorers of the Polar Eclipse is a strong album with great songwriting and impeccable pop/rock sounds. I enjoy sensing the mood changes as the album progresses as well the overall coherence and continuity that the album has from beginning to the end. Musically, the album feels like a continuing story. It is always a joy to hear this album. Sometimes I have found myself thinking if this is actually my favorite Secret Powers album. The Electric Family Choir is a tough competitor, I have to say...

Secret Powers on MySpace Secret Powers website

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