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Shmat's Reviews
For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

Secrets By The Highway (CD)

Having a one-syllable band name with only 3 letters has it's advantages (well, probably except for securing that all-important short domain name): it's easy to remember, saves on ink when printing out biz cards, and people probably won't try and make fun of your band by entering its name in a band anagram generator ("amp" or "pam"? Take your pick.) Ok, enough with the fuggling around, what does Map sound like? They sound exactly as their bio and any number of reviews have stated: intricate, dreamy shoegaze topped with a occasional hint of playful pop. Like Jamba Juice in summer, Secrets by the Highway it melts pretty quickly on your tongue and goes down nice and smooth. I sort of feel that dreampop and sometimes even dreamfolk is a better label than shoegaze for them, though. I also think it's interesting that lead cartographer (that's a MAP-maker, for dummies like me that are thesaurus-less) Josh Dooley was also in Starflyer 59 because I thought I could hear some of that leakage in styles between the two bands. Josh also reminds me sometimes of the guy from The Church, forget his name. And of course a bit of the Autumns, though Map don't seem to fall into the sometimes cavernous depths of reverb that are associated with that other band.

Two of my favorite songs on this disc are "Love and Magazines" with its loping pop structure integrated with fun little xylophone tones and the pastoral, drum-machine driven "Riverside". Both of these songs, and especially the latter are really beautiful little pop machines that shake and tremble without being totally self conscious. And speaking of trembling, I'm really reminded of Trembling Blue Stars on "Riverside". Since the band is from L.A., I was also wondering if the song is indeed about the nearby inland desert area of Riverside, CA.

The slow track, "Tell Me", sounds strangely like a 60s ballad in composition and vocal quality. You know, I'm really thinking the more I listen to it, the less the album sounds made of shoegaze. I like the way the three consecutive "girl" songs "The Dancing Girl", "Ugly Girl", and "Strange Girl" are set up. The first is a music-box like waltz instrumental that might have been in the movie soundtrack for Amelie. The second is whimsical pop number driven by gravelly organ and a funny gliding keyboard line, while "Strange Girl" is more uptempo and more in that SF 59 vein. The CD ends on the piano number "Is This GoodBye?" which sounds sort of like a "red album" era Belle and Sebastian tune. What I like about the album is that it is accessible for those of us who need to be spoonfed our pop, but it's totally able to stand up to a more in-depth listening session say a year from now. Good stuff...

- review by RABBIT (7.27.04)        

Velvet Blue Music
9121 Atlanta Ave. Suite 237
Huntington Beach, CA 92646

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