Union Black Records
22 March 2010
by Tom Dare
Bands that try new things, aim for originality and compose complex songs are frequently praised for doing so – as they should be. Striving to find a unique voice can distract from the goal of writing music that people actually want to listen to and will remember, but when both are achieved, the results can be spectacular. Secondskin fall into this category.
Obviously drawing inspiration from the more progressive and experimental areas of rock and metal, SecondSkin’s sound is based around lush guitar lines that range from the lilting to downright heavy, and while some are beautifully simple others are unpredictable and complex. There are a few nods in the direction of Tool and Porcupine Tree as well as some occasional Deftones references in the guitars when things get heavier. The vocals are contemplative and melodic, hanging everything together and drawing the listener in.
The impressive thing about Captive Audience is the sheer quantity and quality of ideas. The rich textures and harmonies are sumptuous, the progressive construction to the songs taking the listener on a voyage through a transcendent plane while the vocals drip with sincere emotion and soul. Full of epic journeys that are layered and more rewarding with every listen, there is almost two albums worth of material in the one package – which is one of the slight problems this record has.
Albums as involving as this require your full attention to properly appreciate. A half-listen over a few beers with your mates will yield little of the rich rewards on offer. The epic length renders this a slightly exhausting experience. There are one or two tracks that, although full of good ideas, seem a touch out of place, and perhaps could have been saved for album number two, in the process helping the narrative of the record and lessening the high demand on the listener.
The other slight criticism regards the vocals – or rather, the vocal lines. The singing in and of itself is fine, maintaining the evocative tone whether gently complimenting the softer instrumental moments or going toe-to-toe with the power of the heavier passages. When instrumental parts are challenging and require attention, the vocals can serve as the way in, providing a hook the listener can grab onto and follow until they have puzzled out everything else. On occasion however, here they follow a more demonstrably harmonic pattern, following the chords in a manner that, while pleasant, does not quite provide a large enough hook, and the effect is to instantly render the passage more inaccessible. It gives you something else to try and figure out, rather than easing you along the path to clarity.
Captive Audience has sufficient ideas of high quality to make the effort required worthwhile. With some spectacular highlights, the ability to be both beautiful and pounding and unafraid to challenge the intelligence of their audience, SecondSkin clearly have some real talent. This is not an album you should listen to just because it is clever, you should listen to it because of the quality of the music and because of the genuine emotion exuding from the complex rhythms and progressive melodies. That it is clever only adds to the achievement.
Sounds like: Porcupine Tree, Tool, Deftones
Top tracks: Pawned Life, Spoonful Of Sugar, Is This How Far We’ve Come?
Secondskin- Captive Audience tracklisting:
If You Knew…
Spoonful Of Sugar
Is This How Far We’ve Come?
Among The Mute Majority
Capable Of Anything
…What The River Carries