Secret Shine: After Years (Clairecords, 2003)

by Brent

Secret Shine After YearsClairecords is a California label that has consistently released some of the best shoegaze/dreampop music. The label shows a keen ear in signing high quality bands who bring their own unique sounds to the shoegaze world. Examples of this excellence in band selection abound as one peruses the Clairecords roster: Highspire, Airiel, Monster Movie, Malory, Hartfield, Pia Fraus, Sciflyer, and more. While Clairecords has shown a remarkable skill in releasing the best in current shoegaze music, they have always been a label with a knowledge and heart for the past groundbreaking band of shoegaze/dreampop’s past. And, in this spirit of admiration for the early bands in the shoegaze movement, Clairecords dives into the vaults to rerelease a staggering 17 songs from early 90’s dreampop band Secret Shine.

Compiling songs from Ephemeral and Loveblind singles, the Untouched album, and the Greater Than God EP, each in their entirety, and each released in the early 1990’s, After Years is a lesson in history for the more recent fan of dreampop. On these songs, smartly packaged by Clairecords, Secret Shine conveys a sound reminiscent of that bygone era of the beginnings of shoegaze. Featuring wispy male/female vocals, guitars with unmistakable early 90’s effects, and simple drum machine beats, Secret Shine creates a mood that is somehow both constrictive and expansive. The songs on After Years contain a tight structure, somehow reminding me vaguely of My Bloody Valentine, and other late 1980’s and early 1990’s acts (which makes sense, due to the actual recording date of these songs). In fact, perhaps the most amazing thing about After Years is the way that the music still sounds fresh after more than a decade. While the sounds and songwriting may seem a bit dated to the indiscriminating listener, fans of dreampop in particular will find lots of great musical moments that sound as beautiful and valid as the more recent dreampop releases.

With 17 songs, each produced and recorded in a similar fashion, and due to the songwriting style of the band, the songs on After Years seem to blend together. Yet, moments of real musical ingenuity reveal themselves upon a closer listen. “Deep Thinker”, with its almost menacing verses, leads into a delicious chorus with a thick wall of guitars and tense male vocals. “Spellbound” finds Secret Shine playing a slow, spacey jam that serves as the prototype for epic shoegaze. In a fun twist, “Secret Shine” features the band actually using their name as the lyrics in the chorus, and contains a well-written, infectious melody. “Into The Ether” is another highlight,  and is aptly titled, as the male and female vocals float into a cloud of gentle guitars and effected percussion.

At first, a CD containing 17 songs from an obscure band playing an obscure kind of music might not seem like a terribly exciting proposition for a music buyer. Yet, Clairecords scores a hit with After Years, with it’s time-tested collection of beautiful songs. Any fan of the newer bands listed above (and other newer bands) owe it to themselves to listen to After Years, in order to gain an idea of the context of dreampop from a true original. Even after all these years,  Secret Shine captures the attention of listeners with their glorious sounds and eerily beautiful mu

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