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Luminescent Folk-Pop with a Touch of the Baroque – The Secret Sea’s 2013 Debut Lands on SEM’s Desk and We’re Very Happy About That

The Secret Sea
The Secret Sea
Anova Music

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It’s not unusual in this racket to miss a great record and have to catch up to it far too late to make a difference within the normal promotional parameters of its original release date. It’s an especially daunting challenge when that record originates some eight thousand miles away, well out of reach of the many antennae any one of us scribblers has managed to cobble into a nevertheless scattered network. It’s a vast radar, after all, and the most that can be hoped is that somehow, against the odds, that album and its artist happen to filter their way into your orbit. In nearly all cases, even with the internet (the sheer volume of which swamps whatever advantage its worldwide reach might offer), this is an impossible prospect, unless, of course, you can claim, as I can, the ‘Portland advantage┬«,’ that strange inexplicable cultural force that’s been magnetically pulling talent to this once-modest berg for the best part of twenty years now. Granted, most of those riding in on the unrelenting wave come from places like Indiana or Maryland or – [shudder] – LA (just kidding; keep coming, Angelenos, we love ya), but some get lured from greater distances – for most often deeper reasons – at which point, with any luck, they come to my attention. Thus do I now know, and share grateful citizenship with, Amit Erez, ex of Tel Aviv, now of Little Beirut, a singer-songwriter that trades under the moniker The Secret Sea and who, on the evidence of this self-titled album from 2013, should have been greeted at Portland International Airport by the mayor unfurling a lush red carpet with Colin Meloy and the ghost of Elliott Smith at his side.

While admitting to being drawn here by the legacy of the latter – and live, performing solo, recognizably though never slavishly resemblant – what’s offered on The Secret Sea hews more closely to a cluster of bands and artists that would include the former. Luminescent folk-pop with the occasional touch of the baroque, the collection assembled here by Erez and his then-band sparkles with a wave-like consistency, tempos at times rushing forward (the fatalistic tumble of “Afterlife” skirrs bravely, playfully even, behind its stanzas of [post-] existential skepticism, “Not About Us” is a caffeinated John Darnielle on an out-of-control pop merry-go-round, the bass-led [by Dave Bareket] “Killing Light” a poetically complex [post-] breakup song that kicks the lively hell out of a melancholia that, of course, wins in the end), at times scaling back (the delicate geometry of remembrance that is “3,” its ominous military imagery refracted through a toddler’s eyes; the ponderously epic, eponymous title tack, finale “Heavenly Signs” with its angsty Emily Dickinson feel, vulnerable, lonely) but just as often subjected to a variance of moods like life itself, as reflected in the elemental haunt of “Elegy” that turns in a blink from sylvan harmonies amid a shimmering backdrop to a soaring, racing, emphatic, well, elegy, or the quiet momentum of “Kind of Dance” that only just barely keeps itself from breaking out, appropriate given the song’s murmuring emotional restlessness.

Fluidly arranged throughout and language-rich (“she wants to practice medicine / on the people who die the most” just one of an abundance of examples), its musicianship unshowy but vivid, The Secret Sea is its own revelation and, absent the mayor and Mr Meloy, I for one would like to officially – and with a genuine fanfare of the heart – welcome the Secret Sea to Portland.