Secret Season – Love is the Only Game in Town
The powerful fourth album from the duo of Mark Moogalian and Isabelle Risacher, Love is the Only Game in Town, is a twelve song collection from a self-described alt rock outfit. Close listening to the dozen songs here reveals something much different – this is a band that, without pretension or obscurity, has pushed their songwriting into outright art that manages to touch base with pop songwriting fundamentals. While this is very intelligent material, it strives to entertain the listener as well. Many bands and performers who adopt this sort of sound produce stiff, frozen results, but this release is far from a bloodless exercise.
They boldly open things with the album’s title track. It has a minimalist slant from the first note, but it isn’t the sound of a skeletal song. The song is like a sleek, streamlined arrow and doesn’t waste either a note or word in attempting to deliver its message. Secret Season’s lyrics are consistently strong throughout and the title song is one of their most fully realized texts. “She’s So Mysterious” makes more dramatic use of Moogalian’s guitar and has a much rounder, fatter sound overall, but the same stylistic sensibility guides the music. Risacher handles lead vocal chores on “Show Me What You’ve Got” and embodies the song’s lyrics in memorable fashion. Her voice resonates with a degree of technical excellence, but it’s her emotional edge that stands out much more. The yearning in this song is quite real. “Linen White” couldn’t be more different however. This song has a much more relaxed stance than the two preceding songs and Secret Season’s decision to allow it more space to breathe than many of the album’s other tracks gives it a breezy agility other songs lack.
“Flow” has a much more pensive atmosphere than earlier songs. Moogalian’s acoustic guitar plays a secondary musical role here and the song’s focus on its simple melody and vocal harmonies makes it an unusual affecting art pop song with a light touch. The artier aspects are even more pronounced on “Exhibit A” with its treated, fragmentary guitar and scattered percussion. The song’s pacing remains fluid throughout but solidifies in the song’s second half. Secret Season turns towards the blues and a dual vocal approach on “Mean Streak”, but the mood resolutely stays low key and understated. This is a duo capable of invoking formula and cliché in unexpectedly fresh ways – the dynamics are key. “Mean Streak” is laced with a handful of moments when Secret Season chooses to pepper the arrangement with subtle, non-blues elements or else brings proceedings to a brief stop in dramatic fashion. “I Wanna Be With You” has a deep groove with understated acoustic guitar laid over top. It’s probably the album’s best pure groove and Moogalian responds with a vocal full of hushed, palpable yearning.
This is as artful as it comes. It’s a bit curious to call it alt rock, but labels are ultimately meaningless. The best way of describing Secret Season’s musical thrust is to say they expertly balance tradition with a commitment to twist said tradition to their own ends. Their fourth album should receive rapturous attention from their fans while those unfamiliar with the duo’s talents are well advised to seek this out.
8 out of 10 stars.