Secret Season – Love is the Only Game in Town
This is a real treat. Mark Moogalian and Isabelle Risacher, performing as Secret Season, specialize in writing and performing stylistically sophisticated art rock song enlivened with strains of alternative rock, blues, brief bursts of jazz, noise rock, and even some folk inclinations among other aspects. You can hear the genuine rock and roll spirit people extol in conversation bubbling through these songs and punching its way out with their devil may care attitudes towards songwriting formulas. If rock music, as a genre, is truly on life support or dead like some claim, it isn’t because the form has been exhausted. Duos like Secret Season have proven over four albums that it is possible to apply a new coat of paint to familiar themes and their latest, Love is the Only Game in Town, is the summit of their efforts so far.
It sets a high bar from the outset. The album takes the audacious move of kicking things off with the title song and it pays off nicely. “Love is the Only Game in Town” is one of the album’s best numbers, a fully rounded composition with a fleshed out arrangement, colorful guitar work, and sharply tailored melodic qualities. Secret Season explores nominally rougher textures on “Show Me What You’ve Got” and the frazzled aching at the heart of Risacher’s voice hits in a much different way than Moogalian’s tone. The lyrical slant of “When I Saw Jesus” is honed to a sharper sarcastic point than the earlier songs but it’s otherwise closer than the earlier tracks to a simplified, focused alt rocker. “Linen White” plays in a similar way, but the guitars charge out of the speakers with a bit more chaos than the earlier song. The duo shifts gears on “Flow” for acoustic guitars and a much clearer cut arrangement than their earlier efforts. It’s a welcome more for a variety of reasons as it shows the performers’ artistic dexterity.
They underscore that dexterity on the following number. “Exhibit A” flirts with a surprising progressive edge in the song’s first half before transforming into a much more straight ahead song in the second half. There’s an understated ambition fueling the song that makes it one of the album’s most interesting entries. Secret Season immerses themselves in the blues on “Mean Streak” and, even if the song’s theme is quite well worn, the duo owns the material without ever blinking and makes it their own. Risacher returns for another star turn on “When You’re Gone”, but the brief and melodic bass line creates a fantastic groove for her to inhabit. There’s similar strengths powering “I Wanna Be with You”, but the melodies are even catchier here and the music romps with appealing gusto. The album closes with “Shine On” and it’s another free-form exercise from the duo with a discernible frame of reference. Moogalian and Risacher often mine from the blues tradition and this final entry is no different.
Love is the Only Game in Town is a lengthy collection, but none of the songs overstay their welcome and Secret Season can’t credibly be accused of self indulgence. There isn’t an arbitrary or forced moment on this collection. The songs seem to emerge from a place of need and are informed by well developed artistic techniques. Love is the Only Game in Town is essential listening for anyone interested in unusual alt rock operating within familiar parameters.
8 out of 10 stars.