Beyond Sea and Sky by Secret Shine (Review)

Rough around the edges but still full of lovely textures in which to lose yourself.
Beyond Sea and Sky - Secret Shine

It’s been something like ten years since Secret Shine released any new material — much of the band’s Sarah Records catalogue was re-released in 2004 on Clairecords — and it’s almost as if the band has been stuck in a timewarp. The press release may mention the likes of Mogwai and Sigur Rós, but make no mistake, this is straight up old school shoegazer circa 1993. If Kathryn Smith’s wispy vocals on “Lost Memory” don’t cause the Lush memories to come rushing back, then you have much better ears than I, my friend.

As with most shoegazer types, the lyrics are not necessarily strong — there’s plenty of mention of lost memories, wistfulness, existential regret, and pining away for some lost someone or somewhere — but that’s fine, because it’s all about the sound. And Secret Shine envelopes the listener in approximately 700 layers of sounds throughout the course of Beyond Sea and Sky’s three songs.

This is especially true on the aforementioned “Lost Memory” — gossamery filaments of guitar glint and shimmer above a bassline that acts like a glacier, slowly but inexorably moving the song in all manner of heartbreaking motion. And the “oomph” is all the more apparent when heard on headphones. I suppose I should criticize the band for being less adventurous than they might be after a ten-year hiatus, but the title track’s sparse piano lines and layers of Robin Guthrie-esque shimmering do a good job of convincing me to just go with the retro flow.

If there’s one complaint about Beyond Sea and Sky, it’s that the sound mix often seems a little off-balanced and on the muddy side. Of course, one of the central tenets of shoegaze is that you’re required to bury the vocals under layers of guitar, rendering them gauzy and amorphous. But in the EP’s case, the vocals of Smith, Jamie Gingell, and Dean Purnell seem muffled more than anything else. Given the fact that all of them have voices that are more content with sighing than coming off as more forceful, they get a bit more unfairly mussed up than they might otherwise.

The EP is only three tracks long, so chances are, it’s more for dedicated fans that have been waiting with bated breath for the band’s return. A new full-length album is in the works, due out sometime in the summer of 2007. As such, I prefer to think of this EP as more like a demo than anything else. It’s rough around the edges, a little unbalanced to be sure, and maybe still working out the kinks after all these years, but still full of lovely textures in which to lose yourself.

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