Album Review: Secret Cities – Pink Graffiti

[Western Vinyl; 2010]

With the widespread comeback of sixties’ surf-rock and chamber-pop throughout indie-rock over the past several years, no pop artist has influenced the revival as much as Brian Wilson. From the likes of indie-darlings such as Girls and Best Coast as well as many others, the visionary songwriter has stood as the backbone to the resurgence of an emerging movement of Wilsonian-inspired work. Few bands, however, recreate and carry on in the footstep of the Beach Boys’ mastermind as much as the Fargo-founded indie pop trio Secret Cities, whose debut album Pink Graffiti exudes those good vibrations as well as any band today.

Secret Cities date back to the meeting of then teen-musicians M.J. Parker and Charlie Gokey at band camp when they were 15 years old. After trading recorded cassettes back and forth under the name White Foliage, the duo formed Secret Cities, adding drummer Alex Abnos and reformulating their sound. After years of collaboration, Pink Graffiti represents Parker and Gokey’s pop-minded canvas, one encompassing their years of musical discovery.

Like a minimalist version of the Flaming Lips, Secret Cities paint a surreal audio landscape, jumping between familiar moments of catchy orchestrated-pop and experimental electronic techniques, keeping listeners interested and intrigued throughout a continuously evolving work. It’s almost as if Secret Cities started off trying to recreate sunny beach-derivative pop in the likes of the Beach Boys, but ended up reinterpreting it in the midst of a bleak North Dakotan winter.

The album’s opener “Pink City” demonstrates this to a tee with its delicate, swooning ensemble that immediately recalls Grizzly Bear’s aesthetic. “Pink Graffiti, Pt. 2” offers a compelling blend of dreamy neo-psychedelic exploration and wistful pop, while it’s enchanting latter counterpart “Pink Graffiti Part 1” showcases Secret Cities at their most energetic, featuring a dynamic buildup recalling that of one from Yeasayer or Dan Deacon.

While the entirety of Pink Graffiti endures as a charmingly cohesive record, Secret Cities exhibit their –elegant pop mastery on “Boyfriends.” On this gorgeous, whistle-filled track, the trio demonstrates that they are not simply a group of revivalists, once again recalling Grizzly Bear along with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, particularly sounding like a better version of the latter’s “Janglin”). As the group despondently resigns that “those good vibrations never came,” Secret Cities offer up “Boyfriends” as a gorgeous and gloomy ode to none other than Mr. Wilson himself in what easily amounts to one of the best tracks of the year.

As a whole, Pink Graffiti stands as an impressive debut for the North Dakotan trio. In what appears to have initially started as a project simply based on the recreation of their preceding influences has veered into a different direction. Instead, not only do Secret Cities manage to adeptly revive a sound they seemed to use as their framework, but more importantly craft Pink Graffiti into their own vision. The result is one that continues to warrant listen after listen, unveiling new layers with each subsequent turn.