Secret in the Dark

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Even before she worked with members of the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, and the Menahan Street Band, Monika had already racked up some impressive collaborators: Greek producer Ottomo and Calexico's Martin Wenk helped her bend and break genre boundaries on her 2008 debut Avatar and its follow-up, 2010's Exit. That said, her pairing with Homer Steinweiss, Thomas Brenneck, and their cohorts on Secret in the Dark is inspired, taking her music in new and exciting directions. The album also feels indebted to Monika's theatrical work; in the best possible way, its nighttime portraits and stories feel more like set pieces than mere songs. The album begins with an audacious trio of tracks: "Baby Boy"'s simmering disco-pop unfolds with a dreamlike flow and sensuality. "Shake Your Hands," a lush duet with Andrew Wyatt, teeters between danger and romance. "Secret in the Dark" itself doubles down on disco, slinking along on a beat somewhere between "Stayin' Alive" and "That's the Way I Like It" as Monika's smoky alto brings things down to earth and up to date. On these songs, Secret in the Dark recalls Mr. Twin Sister's reinvention as kings and queens of a surreal nightlife, but Monika is too mercurial an artist to stick with disco for long. The rest of the album is more eclectic but just as enjoyable, with Steinweiss, Brenneck, and company lending their burnished glow to "Lonely World"'s fusion of chamber pop and soul, the torchy ballad "One More," and the brassy pop of "Get Out of My Way." Monika explores even further-flung territory on "Give Us Wings," a folky parable of freedom and loneliness, and the off-kilter art-pop of "We Came Into This World (To Beat Them)," which moves from singer/songwriter verses to spacy choruses with ease. Nevertheless, the album's closing track "Gave You My Soul" reaffirms that out of all the roles she adopts on Secret in the Dark, postmodern soul and disco diva fits best. Though this is Monika's third album, it's her most widely released, making Secret in the Dark a fine addition -- and introduction -- to her body of work.

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