In a few months’ time most music magazines, well known newspapers as well as bloggers worldwide will be publishing, posting and babbling about their best 2016 albums list. Many of us will be surprised about some of the choices, but in general, there will be some sort of temptation to rank as much mainstream sonic boredom as possible on the top ten of most magazines, whether on paper or digital. After all, the music industry must have its share of return over investment, which proves that neurologically the common sense listener is easily lured by the “one chord progression fits all ears” algorithmic formulas of success.
These introducing words go to say that I do not expect to see the album I am reviewing in this post highly ranked in most of all the year end lists. Apart from such a future factuality if there’s one thing that I can assure, unless I have suddenly got deaf and dumb, is that the album in question here hardly isn’t, and according to my assessment, the best album from all those released so far this year. Without any overexcitement or exaggeration, it is a breathtaking gem, a source of endless pleasure.
If we stick to the listener’s perspective, the aural experience can vary in grade and intensity. There are albums that pluck the right chord at the wrong time and those which supposedly pluck the wrong chord at the right time. Thankfully, there are a few that pluck the right chord at the right time and these are often the albums of a lifetime. Those that will make any season perfectly comfortable. These sorts of albums belong to a timeless order where one is oddly struck with some fierce universal energy in a singular moment and that generates a specific inner harmony whatever that means.
Either they are deeply skingasmic or ephemerally spiritgasmic this type of albums is artistically equivalent to comets and shooting stars. They only come from time to time, but they bring the same glamorous feast of light even when they sound dark sad melancholic built upon some muffled anger. There are albums that are only a poor assemblage of songs; they aren’t even an orderly purposeful collection although with no particular intrinsicality. They are made instantaneous to be consumed like mashed potato for the eardrum. Just like matches burning to the speed of light. They are not intense; there is no depth in them. They are the sort of albums made to numb not to instill any kind of awareness in the ones who appreciate it. Aseptic. They are made for very shallow waters definitely not for a deep liberating plunge.
The album I am essaying to write about was released this year February 19 while the world was still recovering from the death of David Bowie and all the others that followed. The world was in a freaking state of shock eulogizing BLACKSTAR because it would not be trendy to do otherwise. People can be monotonous as fuck. So much good music emerging out there, from so many talented and highly promising musicians, but due to the circumstances, it is no easy task to catch people’s attention. They are, either too focused on the influence of a legacy or too excited with the prospects of a new long awaited album from any musician with very good press.
While for different reasons people were mourning iconic artists, the best album of 2016 first semester was due out. A Seattle based indie rock four piece managed to make a bold masterpiece without much fuss in a world, amidst the turbulence of an artistic sense of loss. They named their delicate work of art “Secrets” and secrets like theirs, ought to be treated like priceless treasures. These “Secrets” were told us by a fabulous musician, singer-songwriter who answers by the name of Jessica Dobson and her troupe of equally amazing diver musicians. They are Deep Sea Diver and they are a rare case of wonderment.
In order to cut a long story short, I’ll state that Deep Sea Diver debut EP “New Caves” came out in 2009 after Jessica Dobson parted ways with Atlantic Records. Their first full-length “History Speaks” appeared three years later and it was the stepping out of the shadows or to be more precise the plunge into depths never experimented before by Jessica and her three diving companions. The next step was the release of their 2014 “Always Waiting” EP. Jessica Dobson was committed to release Deep Sea Diver sophomore album around March/April 2015 as a way to ride the band’s momentum of creativity and cohesiveness but due to further advice, their soulful masterpiece suffered a nine-month delay and was only released February 2016.
Probably good counselling given to her, though I believe that such a wonderful album could have been released anytime. It is too precious an album, too masterfully crafted and its lyrical circumstances and existential angst perfectly translates the human experience. Afterwards, Jessica Dobson plunged into anxious waters and accepted the fact that her sonic gem would have to marinate for almost a whole year before turning into the sacred record it would become.
What is so special about Deep Sea Diver’s “Secrets”? Everything I am tempted to say. Just as the name of the band that made it possible this is an album that gets you immersed into it. It suffocates you in a mesmerizing elegy. You start approaching the seawater then you let it get up to your knees until it gradually takes you some meters below to some different light, strangled noises and awkward density. “Secrets” works like a pact in which you willfully accept to be drowsed into some mind-blowing vulnerability and uneasiness. Moreover, the odd thing is that there is beauty in all this. A rare balance: grasping for air and deep inhalation; a fragile equilibrium made out of liquidity and the solid evidence of living experience.
“Secrets” is a challenging album, a voyage to the center of individual fragilities, an intense narrative of the aches and pains of getting into and getting out love. "Secrets" is about the quest for the necessary awareness after peeling all those layers of blurred circumstances that keeps us far and away from the intimacy of the inner self when the human relationships leave behind a trail of bruised disillusionment that sometimes only by means of a deep plunge into the profundities of universal renewal.
I would not say that “Secrets” is a concept album, but i believe that the set of songs is far from being accidental; in fact, it seems pretty much the way it is purposely. It could easily be the soundtrack for a contemporary ballet such is the anthropological appeal of this particular album. There is a strong sense of movement and choreographic plasticity emanating from this group of songs that undoubtedly illustrate some sort of substantive corporeal intensity that guides this intimate map of redemptive songs. This album is pure witchcraft. 10/10.
TRACK BY TRACK
I cannot precisely say how many times I did listen to "Secrets", but make it probably about one hundred times. In addition, I am far from fed up. One of the most spectacular features of this album is that the more you listen to it the more you perceive its technical subtleties and charms, but the influences that either intentionally or unintentionally seem to be present in its making. Apart from some aspects that we could redirect to “The Shins” influence (though much more audible on History Speaks), or to Karen O and the “Yeah Yeah Yeahs”, it is the experimental presence of sonic structure deconstruction, so keen to Krautrock movement that are surprising.
NOTICE ME The opening track is a deliberate submersion into depths that embrace without any resistance and full of those troubled noisy silences of soon past relationships, which have entered a ghostly dimension of non-communication. The guitar work is incredibly imagistic and the song structure and all the instruments compromise in an elegant chaotic dialogue signaling this initial plunging therapy in such epic way. This is definitely a deconstructed pop song in Krautrock-esque fashion, reminding the riffology and the rhythmically dilettante beats of German band CAN. Fabulous song for exquisite eardrums.
WIDE AWAKE This song illustrates eloquently the plunging into the deep waters. The distorted psychedelic rock intro paves the way for a stead indie rock beat with some grounding drum pattern and hypnotic bass line with some top of the cake fuzzy guitars. Once again, both tonally and rhythmically, a very experimental noisy stunning song that guides you to meditation domains if you just focus on the viciously addictive beat.
CREATURES OF COMFORT Another great theme. Not surprising for this album will remain as a case study for the many years to come. Pure indie-rock again with vicious guitar work and excellent rhythm section collaboration with some additional dreamy keyboard and synths that gives to this song a brilliance and a textured density that makes of it one of the standout tracks of the album with a soaring chorus that makes putting it on unstoppable repeat mode.
SECRETS The song that gives name to the album is a piece of indie-rock anthology. The guitar work is a true delight for the eardrum going from a softer pop riffing to a more edgy and noisy sonic patterns with a superb bass and drum beat that emphatically remind of a fast train on tracks until it crashes into some imaginary unknown wall. The additional percussion details and the subtly of the synths all through this track along with the brilliant, at all levels, Jessica’s singing and background vocals. This song is like an ultimate underwater sword fight with those meaningful tormenting though liberating inner demons. It makes you want to suddenly cry such is its beauty. A definite masterpiece from intro through outro!
GREAT LIGHT Another uncompromising beautiful song signals the turning of the tide of the album. Underwater therapy structured around deliciously nostalgic synths. Then again, you have Jessica’s sweet soft singing. You can easily imagine yourself surrounded by a silent luminescent mass of water. It is a resistance song It is somehow the flip side coin of the closing album's song and announces the upward movement of resurfacing. That’s the kind of song that deeply touches you. There is an intense sad melancholy traversing it all.
SEE THESE EYES This song is another brilliant example of guitar playing full of delightful rhythmic and melodic details. Taking into account what was said about the album’s first set of songs and metaphorically considering that there is an ongoing emotional healing underwater therapy, this is the right song to open the second set of songs from “Secrets”. The opening guitar riff and synth swell that incidentally lasts the whole song serve to announce a thrilling track. Amazing percussion and drumming work of Peter Madsen, admirable the way he keeps the song on pace with his, I dare say, perfect notion of time with the efficient help of a gorgeous killer jazz funk bass pattern. Adorable match of tone and rhythm. This is the kind of song that the more one listens to it the more it unveils its musical structure.
ALWAYS WAITING This song appears on the album with an alternate version. In fact, this is the title song of Deep Sea Diver’s sophomore EP. A well crafted lo-fi ballad with some great bass playing plus ethereally gorgeous synth melodic details. An exquisite piece of beauty. Waltzing underwater. Delightful.
IT TAKES A MOMENT The distorted guitar open and the rhythmic percussion pattern make this song vicious and addictive. Then you add it with the spacious psychedelic keyboards, the background guitars and the sweet singing that sometimes reminds of a sort of Baptist church chant you simply have a killer song with that exquisite surplus of a string orchestra that transforms this song in some kind of an audacious aural experience.
BODY ON THE TRACKS This song is a masterpiece. There is no other way of addressing it. It is excruciatingly beautiful, intense; it feels like a set of razorblades tattooing your skin until it severely hurts, until you bleed out the demons that keep you astray. There is an odd eastern feel in the song structure that pushes it to epic longingness and nostalgia reinforced by a stunningly string orchestral soundscape. The frenzied hypnotic guitar playing by Jessica Dobson makes you feel the substantive anxiousness that underlies this whole album. Sublime drumming and keyboard parts and brilliant bass pattern once more. The song finale is of absolute sonic eloquence and opens the way to sheer perfection for the closing album's song.
NEW DAY The closing track of the album is like the coming out from the depths and leaving the emotional ocean of contemporary heartbreaking behind aiming for redemptive experiences. A truly beautiful piano, chamber pop ballad filled from beginning to end with that apparent fragility that the nostalgic tortured voice of Jessica Dobson that sings us so wonderfully about the therapeutics of starting again alone. A magnificent way of closing an unconditionally breathtaking album.