With only a few hints left of their artsy shoegazer-inspired past, Secrets Are Sinister sees Longwave continuing in the U2 by way of Snow Patrol vein of 2005's There's a Fire and aiming directly for radio acceptance, this time without major label backing. This seeming grab for commercial acceptance may be paying off, as "The Devil and the Liar"'s shimmering instrumental opening soundtracks a Lubriderm commercial. Musically, the song is a dead ringer for their peers Rogue Wave and likewise owes quite a debt to Death Cab for Cutie. But as the song continues past what's heard in the commercial, it suffers from amateurish lyrics and a monotone performance from Steve Schiltz, who seems to be doing his best hybridization of Interpol's Paul Banks and James Mercer of the Shins; at least the high-pitched humming works. Perhaps producer Peter Katis suggested and milked the dour vocal and musical tone that permeates much of the album, as he's been a soundboard mastermind behind Interpol and the National's breakthroughs. Here, there's a sense that things are a bit too tidy and every edge seems polished to create a sense of bothered but shiny moroseness. It's good that there are frequent tonal shifts between tracks, between moody rockers and melancholic ballads, but it's nearly impossible to ignore the influences on display, particularly when the results feel like above-average but second-tier knockoffs of Gary Lightbody's Snow Patrol juggernaut.
It's difficult to admire or dislike Secrets Are Sinister. It's the kind of album that just sits there emotionally and musically, well crafted but fitted with meaningless lyrics that exist purely for the sake of a rhyme and a voice. Katis does provide some great dynamics and there's occasional emotional pull when Schiltz goes falsetto and Katis buries that falsetto in a wall of sound, as on "Life Is Wrong," which could easily soundtrack one of the coming-attraction commercials on HBO or Showtime or a hammy scene in a CW show. The title track is a nice, slow affair, though fitted with a cheesy 1970s chorus and a premature fadeout. A lot of studio work obviously went into the dynamics of the album, but the songs aren't memorable enough to beg for repeat listens, and while there's a sense that this is a bid for stadium-anthem worship, the overall dour mood sucks much of the air away. It's as if Longwave are making one long, loud declaration: "We're passionately ambivalent." It might seem unfair to compare unfavorably a band like Longwave and even the Snow Patrols of the world to an early shoegazer-centric group and obvious influence like Kitchens of Distinction, for whom songcraft and genuine emotion meant as much as dynamics, but there's an undeniable sense that most of the bands of the 2000s are aping the style without adding or understanding the substance. Perhaps Longwave have a great album in them or perhaps not, but the overpowering drive for commercial acceptance on Secrets Are Sinister, along with weak lyrics and unintentionally dispassionate vocals, derails the train here.