Deep Sea Diver – Secrets

3 out of 5

Label: Lolipop Records (cassette edition)

Produced by: Luke Vander Pol

I suspect there is a wonderful album in here, buried beneath some specifics that don’t appeal to me, and then further held back by something that I’ve seen as a bit of a consensus amongst other reviews: Deep Sea Diver sometimes play it a little safe.

Deep Sea Diver is often framed by talking about Jessica Dobson, a Seattle scenester who’s done her time in The Shins, and playing with Bright Eyes, and many other names you’ll recognize. Elements of those bands are here – primarily Shins’ shininess – but Dobson has congealed much of her Seattle experience (and “the” Seattle experience) into a slick hodge-podge that is her own, appended by Peter Mensen’s peppy drumming, and guitar and synth assists from Elliot Jackson. This hodge-podge is the most impressive part of Secrets: the way the band shimmers and shakes from a dance-pop default to moments of surprising alt-rock harshness, or how Dobson dissects new wave flash into no-wave skronk via a particularly affecting staccato guitar playing style; the music often has a slightly unidentifiable edginess to it.

But I mentioned a default, and also said DSD play it safe, and those are interrelated: while Dobson’s emotive voice and the energy of the music seem to suggest otherwise, the overall sound here is geared towards boogie, and that encourages a certain repetitiveness both to the music and, moreso, the lyrics, which tend toward vagueness and open-ended statements that don’t gain meaning just by saying them again and again. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, especially when fully embraced – the music video for ‘See These Eyes’ brings to mind OkGo’s art-school pop, a band who have often excelled at finding that balance between ear worm simplicity and depth – but there’s a dark undercurrent to Secrets that has Dobson and crew twisting away from that, which makes the candy-coating somewhat empty.

The latter third or so of the album allows that stuff to the surface: the pace slows a bit; compositions feel less flashy, and more patient; the music resonates more.

In general, if you like the sheen of groups like The Shins, there’s much crossover here, and DSD’s unique blend of harsher elements into the mix prepares one’s ears for some denser, more lasting stuff deeper into the album.