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Review: Secrets Between Sailors, 'Now Hear This!'

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Secrets Between Sailors
Now Hear This!
Hops Records
Four stars

Imagine you’re sitting at the bar and a big, burly, lumberjack-looking guy comes in. He seems pissed off and thirsty, so you and the other patrons give him a wide berth at first, averting your eyes and pretending not to notice him. That is until he starts talking, and out of his mouth comes sentimental tales of youth, longing, of love gone wrong, all with the lyricism of a wandering poet. That’s essentially what it feels like to delve into Now Hear This!, the sophomore album by Bloomington-based Secrets Between Sailors.

Now Hear This! is a big, guitar-heavy, drums-forward album, so you don’t automatically expect it to be as lyrically rich as it is: you’re too busy trying to process the fat riffs, the solos, the pace changes, the punchy drum work. You’re also trying to figure out if lead singer Kyle Burkett is in as much pain as it sounds like he is with his husky, pleading and sometimes angry vocals. And I suppose that’s the moment when you start listening closer to the lyrics.

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The album opens with "Get Together," which, like a lot of the tracks on the album, has that rough-around-the-edges feel, yet is actually a sentimental paean to one’s youth and musical influences (“We had Iggy Pop and punk rock documentaries / to help us fight the boredom at the time / 'Combat Rock' when we clashed with our enemies / fight until the sirens drove us away.”). Right from the gate, it's evident that Secrets Between Sailors have taken a turn away from the punkier side they showed on their self-titled debut album (2009), and are instead channeling a more straight-up rock vibe. The most ready modern-day comparison is perhaps Hold Steady, and even Bruce Springsteen at times, for the hard-driving, brutally-honest, exfoliated nature of the songwriting.

The following track, “Lioness” is another deeply emotional song, perhaps as emotional as SBS gets on this album, and that’s saying a lot since it’s a pretty deep album. The song starts out with a ska-ish bass-line, strong drum work, and then gets overlaid with one of a few guitar solos that lace the track. Burkett sings in his peculiar voice, asking his temperamental love to leave him alone and let him move on with his life (“Lioness won’t you let me be / every time around you get your fangs into me / Lioness won’t you let me be free / every time we kiss it’s like you’re killing me”).

Vocalist Lyndsey Helling takes over center stage on “The Way You Are,” a track that — mostly because of her vocals — seems to stand out from the others on Now Hear This!. Backed by Andrew Hartman on horns, the song has a mellower, '60s pop feel to it, as Helling croons about vampires, werewolves, ghosts…and love.

Another track that continually catches the ear is “Your Voice,” which feels a little more alternative, with a dirtied-up rhythm guitar and a solo guitar riff that sort of becomes a refrain. Again, there's a deep pain lingering closely behind the powerful beats and rocking guitar riffs. Unfortunately, the same musky, hoarse quality that gives Burkett’s voice its power tends to obscure the nuances of certain lyrics. But that only matters to a certain degree, as the longing and desire laced throughout a song like “Your Voice” are easily perceptible on the first listen.

If there's any one major drawback to this album it is this: it's a little bit too emotionally demanding. Burkett jams so much pain and frustration into his vocals that, by the end of the record, one feels kind of worn out. After a few run-throughs in a row, I found myself needing to listen to some AC/DC. In a technology-saturated world that can seem superficial and isolated, it's definitely important for artists to cut to the naked soul of the human being, but I think SBS could let up on the gas pedal once in a while, if for no other reason than to give the listener a change of pace.

Secrets Between Sailors are Kyle Burkett on lead vocals and guitar, Andreas Evaristo Butler on guitar, Andrew Maxson on bass, Kyle Collins on drums, Lyndsey Helling on vocals and Andrew Hartman on horns. Now Hear This! is available on vinyl via Hops Records.

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