Secret Cities

Strange Hearts

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On its second album (at least under the Secret Cities name), the North Dakota trio works a bit more in the vein with which it first came to greater attention -- intentionally lo-fi/murky sonics crossed with a sprightly late-'60s Beach Boys jones as refracted through winsome indie sensibilities and sonics of the 21st century. A mouthful, perhaps, but it's the best way to describe Strange Hearts, an intentional collage of all sorts of things into the group's own particular shape. On that front they're one of many bands in recent years who work in generally similar veins -- call it the impact of everything from the legacy of Elephant 6 to the continuing decenteredness of the music industry in general -- but there are plenty of enjoyable songs throughout, even if, as heard straight through, it's a bit repetitive in the end. But said songs, like "The Park," beginning with quiet vocals and piano before the full arrangement kicks in, and "Brief Encounter," with its stately spaghetti Western horns and flourishes dissolving into a loop of mechanistic rumbles, show that there's a spirit at work amid all the general feeling of collage and homage. If Strange Hearts isn't per se a major work, it has more going for it than most dull rock-by-numbers out there, a self-contained sonic world.

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