Secret Stare was formed by Erin Emslie (Hunx and his Punx, The Time Flys) and Will Rockwell-Scott (Mooney Suzuki, Wolfmother. And whilst Emslie and Rockwell-Scott are perhaps better known for kinda scuzzy garage rock, here they turn the volume up to 12, and dig into their Sabbath riffs guidebook and unleash some unholy wicked fury upon the world.
‘Lone Wolf’ announces itself immediately, in a hazy riff, some metal-esqueness, and then Emslie steps up to the mic. Her vocals are buried in the mix, which gives them this disjointed feel from the heavy riffage and pounding rhythm section. That feeds into the riff that begins ‘Streets of Fire,’ borrowed from The Stooges, and this other-worldly synth and creeping bass. Secret Stare are coming in from outer space and then an Ioomi-esque riff and Emslie’s angelic vocals soar over, creating this just fucking wicked track. The synth in this track comes to work at perfect cross-purposes to the heavy guitars and drums, creating this almost hippy-esque noise, challenging the metallic crunch to do its worst.
‘Ancient Tears’ is a highlight, as the guitar stuns all opposition and then the bass and drums go on a search and destroy mission before Emslie floats over top with her vocals with a synth riff. It’s easy to see an otherworldly feel for Secret Stare, I find myself thinking back to the hard rocking albums my Old Man listened to, and their lyrical content of Lord of the Rings, a mystical underworld and outerspace. On ‘Ancient Tears’ in particular, I see this landscape of stun, search and destroy and mop up on an alien landscape, the band in a Mystery Machine-like vehicle.
‘The Fool’ sounds like it escaped from the taperoom floor during the recording of Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast and was gently brought back to life by Emslie and Rockwell-Scott, given new life as a Secret Stare track. One of the things about classic stoner rock is that it was a hyper masculine space, a sausage factory, and the concert audiences were a rush of testosterone. But, with Secret Stare, Emslie’s assumption of the microphone both challenges that stereotype and picks up the mantle left by early hard rockers like Heart, if not creating a feminine space, at the very least opening up the music to that possibility.
‘Father Thunder’ charges ahead, the drums just absolutely fucking thunderous. This song is best listened to at ear-splitting level on a good pair of headphones, not ear buds, to fully get the drums. Emslie sings her bit over a charging guitar and rhythm section, and then song explodes into the chorus, chugging forward to the sun. ‘Witches Web’ also starts with a riff, riffling over the bass drum, as the snare begins to enter the frame before we explode into a fast chugging song.
Nine songs, 29 minutes. In this sense, Secret Stare challenge the 70s and the propensity towards epic tracks. This is both great and horrible. Great in the songs, none of which is longer than 4m12s, both don’t overstay their welcome and leave me wanting more, more, more. And horrible in that after 29 minutes, I’m left high and dry, wanting more, more more.