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. And when I heard it, when I realized how magnificent I thought it was, I went and looked you up. That’s when I learned you were here in Atlanta two weeks ago, and I didn’t know. Goddamnit.
I like your music, you know? From the multi-part vocal harmonies and handclaps in lead-off “Pink City” to the expansive exiting and re-entering of instrumentation, I found it immediately apparent that you guys have discerning ears and minds for pacing and dynamics. The end of the track — with its plopping, reverb-y vocals, fuzzed-out backing, and rippling synth — introduced me to what I thought was your style.
But as quickly as I thought I’d gotten you all figured out, you subverted my expectations. Although Pink Graffiti’s winning single “Boyfriends” starts with cute whistling harmonies (and what sounds like recorders but is probably a keyboard effect), it rips free suddenly into a post-rock wall of sound. These are layered compositions that at their gentlest are more adorable, and at their hardest-hitting are tougher, than what’s produced by most of the bands that shuffle their feet frustratingly in between.
Then, when I’d settled in with your dual skills, Pink Graffiti proved itself more than a two-trick pony! “Slacker,” with its reedy, sweet female vocal and string arrangements, swells and contracts like a respirator with all the life-force suggested therein. It boasts a lushness reserved for the most sweeping classical music and retains all the immediacy of pop. And “Wander” makes meaningful use of something that usually comes off as filler: an instrumental interlude. This one’s nothing but piano chords and Massive Attack-like throbbing keys over skittering, rippling percussion and haphazard bass. It’s avant-garde without pretension, experimental without faltering, and atmospheric without boring. “Aw Rats” comes out of nowhere with fuzzy guitars, buried vocals, and an almost proggy melodic feel, guitar riff-centric and gorgeous, something like the meeting of The Besnard Lakes with Nurses, if that’s possible.
I’ve rarely heard an album that wields so many weapons — not effortlessly, but with such painstaking mastery that it’s almost arduous not to be won over. If it’s not brilliant keyboard percussion (you know, xylophones, etc.) making me giggle, it’s the record’s melodic slyness (the lines almost never go where you think they will) that gets me to raise my eyebrows.
I don’t care very much that it’s sort of a concept album, guys. Sorry. Your press release told me it’s supposed to be about Brian Wilson and youth, or something like that, and no offense, but I couldn’t care less. With or without being informed by Wilson — with or without you paying direct homage to just one of your myriad influences — Pink Graffiti sells itself whole. So could you come on back southward? You could wait till winter, I guess. It’ll be more hospitable meteorologically than Fargo will be, and I can guarantee you at least one fervent fan.