Secret Shine – All of the Stars

Secret Shine
All of the Stars

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, otherwise known as the 1990s U.K. music scene, bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive brightly shined as part of the music press-labeled shoegazer genre. While Secret Shine may not be as well known as those bands, it glowed in similar fashion with oceanic, distorted guitar squalls, starry-eyed, ethereal lulls, and swoon-inducing, stratospheric male and female vocals.

After numerous singles, in 1993 Secret Shine released the debut dream-pop album Untouched which featured helium-light vocals and atmospheric soundscapes with restless to hanging-in-air guitars. The following year the band released the critically-acclaimed five-song Greater Than God EP, perfecting the guitar-driven, dynamic side of the shoegazer style while maintaining catchy melodies and sky-high harmonies.

Secret Shine went on hiatus in 1996 and was off the musical radar for almost ten years, until 2004 when Clairecords put out a retrospective album called After Years that covered the band’s output on the now-defunct Sarah Records. That same year the band members started writing and rehearsing new material until a tragic accident took the life of drummer Tim Morris. The surviving band members eventually reformed Secret Shine (current line up is Dean Purnell – vocals and guitars, Kathryn Smith – vocals, Scott Purnell – guitars, Jamie Gingell – bass, and the addition of Richy Lee – drums), returning in 2006 with two EPs, the Beyond Sea and Sky EP that recaptured their sublime glory days, and the Elemental EP that, true to its title, projected a less lush, more abrasive guitar sound.

The new full-length All Of The Stars sounds like a cross between those two recent EPs, the dreamy mixed with the gritty, and expands on the guitar-based template to incorporate piano and synth notes, strings, and electronics, adding more instrumental variety than on previous releases. The swirling guitars also lean more towards dream-rock than dream-pop this time around, with the guitars having a rougher edge to them.

The album commences with the consistently sweeping rush of “Voice of the Sea”, replete with gritty, roiling guitars, fast-percolating electronic blips, clacking beat, and vocoder vocals from Kathryn that shadow and twine around Dean’s mid-range, clear singing. On the chorus sections a soft backdrop of horns adds a The Boo Radleys dimension, and the densely crashing waves of distorted guitars and interweaving male and female vocal threads create a mesmerizing sonic whirlpool, with Kathryn’s siren call resonating amid the tumult until the end of the song, when all fades away except the solemn finality of orchestral horns.

In contrast to the brisk and intense opener, “Know” starts off in a sinuous, low-key tempo with a wide-open-space sound, the sparse hit of a tambourine for a beat, mournful flute notes, and drawn out strings that rest against Kathryn’s airy, subdued vocoder vocals. The introspective vibe is broken by a stirring chorus of smashed cymbals, burnished guitar frisson, and other sounds that provide a bed for a winding, searingly distorted guitar line and elevated, Slowdive-like vocals from both Dean and Kathryn, mirroring each other with longing. Near the end of the song a hypnotic, warped, organ-type sound is added to the mix, recalling the best of My Bloody Valentine.

“Stars in the Sky” whips it up from the get-go with a choppy sea of grinding guitars and dynamic drum beat that make way for layers of vocals from Dean and Kathryn, with Dean sounding winsome and upfront on the lyrics “You will be mine / I’ve been waiting such a long time / for you to see that you love me” and Kathryn backing up her main vocal line with angelically high vocal fragments. Then it’s a swift dive back into an extended section of kinetic drum beat, breathy, harmonizing male and female vocals, and tender synth notes that ride the heaving guitar swells.

An elongated, Western-sounding guitar line starts off “Café Crash”, along with a horse-trot beat, reflective sing-talking vocals from Dean, and airy vocals from Kathryn where she only accents certain words from Dean’s main vocal line. Cymbal crash and a coarse whirl of guitars come in on the chorus, along with bright, dawning synth notes that float over the guitars and a melancholic, falling star vocal melody of Dean in short-phrase, sing-song mode and Kathryn swooping around his words like a swallow. The distorted guitars swirl more gently by the second chorus, and a cleaner guitar line breaks out amid the haunting woodwind notes and forlorn male and female vocals.

The contemplation continues on the slow-burner “Another Day” with its delicate piano notes, low-key synth notes, and reminiscing vocals from Kathryn, where she sounds like a hazy Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne. The tranquil verses create a quiet lull that is dispelled by the leisurely, but sustained churning guitar turmoil of a chorus suffused with gently rolling piano notes and angelic, but downer “Ahhing” vocals from Kathryn, recalling Emma Anderson of Lush.

Secret Shine kicks it Catherine Wheel-style with the front and center rockin’ guitar frisson of “Hate You When You Smile”, mixing it up with strong drumming and steady, lucid vocals from Dean on the verses, backed by drifting, cooing layers of singing from Kathryn, who sounds like Bilinda of My Bloody Valentine. On the chorus the rising drum beat charges ahead as the driving guitars swirl out, coinciding with synth notes and wistfully airy male and female vocals, creating a stratospheric uplift.

A crepuscular calm pervades the synth and acoustic guitar-based “All That’s Left”, with its My Bloody Valentine-esque submerged vocal tone, limpid, picked guitars, tambourine hits, and Kathryn’s mellow “Ooohing” vocals. Dean’s vocals are manipulated as he sing-talks “All around us are the stars / with empty broken hearts / You are somewhere in the night / your heartbeat with mine”, as astral plane synth and flute notes emerge, along with extended, high-chiming guitar, creating a slow, druggy wash of sound that, by the end of the tune, returns back to its start, with picked acoustic guitar notes and the Kathryn’s ghostly “Ooohing” vocals.

The standout track “Oblivion” starts with heavy, chugging, uncoiling sound, pummeled drum beat, and a mid-tempo churn of distorted, buzzing guitars, as Dean sings in a lower, more plaintive tone with Kathryn’s heavenly tone interweaving with his, curving up and down at the ends of the phrases. The chorus sections are high-flying blasts of rapid drum beat, fiery guitars, and blissful, angelic harmonizing from both Dean and Kathryn.

“Last Leaves” lasts a brief two and a half minutes with attenuated violins, tambourine tap, Saint Etienne-like synths, Dean’s hushed, pensive vocals where he sounds like Sice out of The Boo Radleys, and a narcotic, warped breath-intake sound that follows Dean’s main vocal line, as he sing-talks “Do you still think about me? / ‘cause I think of nothing else but you”.

The band saves the best for last with the joyous “The Sound of Light”, a throwback to the heights of the shoegazer style, with its intro of reversed vocals from Dean, uppity drum beat, spiraling aero-guitar line, other guitar propulsion, buried but buoyant vocals from Kathryn, and Dean’s sweet background vocals on the verses. On the chorus, a wavering siren sound makes an appearance, as well as cymbal crashes, swirling guitars, and sky-high vocals from Dean and Kathryn that end the song and album on a euphoric high.