Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Secret Screens ALBUM

THE SECRET SCREENS – “Relics Part 1” and “Relics Part 2”
Words by MMT

So I was in the kitchen at MADCAP telling The Secret Screens Spatts (Drum Programming, Synths and “Determinism”!) that I didn’t have enough of a musical vocabulary to do justice to reviewing their epic double-album “Relics” (parts 1&2). "There’s so much in it", I was saying, "and I’m honestly not sure what bits to describe as what. Electro, Big Beat, Hip Hop, Scuzzy Indie Dance, Rave, Scratch, Soul, I don’t know where one begins and another one ends..."

Spatts told me not to worry, that he wasn’t sure either, and I felt better. On their website they describe themselves as a “collision of breakbeat, britcore rap, punk, acid house and experimentallica.” So I didn’t get any of those right! But whatever labels you want to stick on this vast swathe of music, it’s extremely impressive stuff!

My indie-kid guitar-band credentials also don’t prepare me for the sheer length of these two CDs. Between them they contain over two and a half hours’ worth of music, three or four times what I would expect a ‘regular’ album to be. But the concept behind the release is that it spans more than two decades’ worth of styles and work by the figures behind The Secret Screens, all mixed up with new production and tracks - just another reason why it’s hard to pin down.

Another is that though there are seven members of The Secret Screens listed on the CD inserts, there were only four (or possibly five) when we saw them live in action at MADCAP last week, and there’s also an extended family of guest stars, samples, collaborators and ‘supporting characters’ past and present along for the ride. The live incarnation focused heavily on the “Scuzzy Indie Dance” I mentioned earlier, but with the sheer amount of other minds and voices at work it’s surely no surprise that the album/s are a diverse ride!

The production throughout is excellent: fully polished and entirely professional. Though there’s plenty of atmospheric instrumentals (the uptempo beats of the infectious “Lost Boy”, the sci-fi zooms and swooshes of “No Tongues / Crazy Legs”, the synth washes of “A Tribute To NYC”, the bleeping trancy shuffle of “My DMX Killed A Man”), there’s also plenty for the likes of me who enjoy a well-turned vocal/lyric.

I enjoy the drawled vocals and punky electronics of the kind of tracks we saw performed by the “live” Secret Screens line-up – I doubt anyone reading this will remember bands like Renegade Soundwave mixing indie and dance together over twenty years ago, but it’s like a superior update of that vibe. And for a pretty dancey album all round there’s a reassuring amount of loud guitars too!

But I particularly enjoy the range of styles which the guest stars also bring with them: MK’s supreme soul singer Nicky Prince appears on “I’m Hearing You” and the frenetic “The Game” with her delicious voice. And if she brings the class, then rappers Graffik (from the legendary The Criminal Minds, one of Spatts’ previous bands) and long-term Monkey Kettle favourites True Element between them bring the energy and urgency of the very best of local rap on tracks like “My Dark Places” or the scratchtastic “On Pause”. There’s even guest samples from the next generation, on the hypnotic “Drum Lord” it’s clearly a young Secret Screen daughter advising us “my Daddy’s a genius, he is a drum lord. If you don’t believe me, check this...” Brilliant! (and she returns again to tell us about her Mum on the second CD too!)

Overall, the sense is that of a bunch of extremely creative and talented musicians and producers coming together for a party that’s never going to stop. And you can’t say fairer than that. Have a listen, whatever your tastes. There’s so much in here that you could easily get lost. But join the party anyway.