Review Summary: I’ll climb a ladder to the northern lights.
Over the course of her career, Jessica Dobson has been obsessed with sharpening her music school chops; a quick Google search turns up stints with Spoon, Beck, Conor Oberst, and The Shins, just to name a few. But the Seattle native has also always envisioned having her own voice, and in 2013 she gave notice to her then-boss and Shins frontman James Mercer that she was leaving to focus on her own band. “I’ll miss you, but I give you my full support,” was Mercer’s response. “You’ve gotta pursue Deep Sea Diver.” The rest, as they say, is history.
, Dobson’s second release under the Deep Sea Diver moniker, sees her continue her run as one of modern indie music’s most interesting guitarists. Her angular playing style visibly bears the influence of Spoon and St. Vincent, two acts known for their gritty yet tidy guitar work, but it also benefits from a winsome angle of attack that is more than capable of drawing the listener in. The abrupt, splattering opening to “Wide Awake”, for instance, is an exercise in mood-building, whilst the satisfying crunch that drives "Notice Me” is particularly adept at papering over the fault lines that typically lie between ballads and rock songs. Much of Deep Sea Diver’s success is also down to the diligence applied by Dobson’s co-stars, namely drummer (cum husband) Peter Mansen, bassist Garrett Gue, and synth programmer Elliot Jackson. Once again, “Wide Awake” functions as a case in point: Gue and Mansen’s visceral introductory groove, when paired with Dobson’s classic rock riffing, is, without question, one of Deep Sea Diver’s most triumphant moments yet.
Almost equally as transcendent is the title track, which finds Dobson at wits end and beset with a twinge of regret. “I hold your secrets, I hold your remorse/Like a gun with no trigger," she sings, just as the song resuscitates itself on the back of Gue’s explosive bassline. Elsewhere, "It Takes a Moment" spends its first thirty seconds showing us how it can make puns out of its own title before Dobson’s jerky cadence and that radioactive guitar – this time sounding like a malfunctioning lawnmower – eventually kick the song into gear. Then there are slower, yet equally enjoyable numbers like “New Day” or “Great Light”; the former is a pensive piano-driven ballad that derives much of its strength from Dobson’s yearning delivery, while the latter takes the form of a digital trip that oscillates delightfully in and out of focus before dissolving in a dreamy haze.
But while it has its fair share of moments, Secrets
falls short of being truly excellent, mainly as attempting to connect emotionally to the record can be a fairly tricky proposition. A lot of this has to do with Dobson’s prose, whose frequently vague and half-baked imagery rarely manages to rise above the serviceable. “High horses waiting; the reins are sawed-off/All the skeletons remain,” goes one particularly mystifying line on “Secrets”. Elsewhere, James Mercer’s cameo appearance on "Creatures of Comfort" is great, as is Jackson’s Kraftwerk-esque bleeps and bloops in the song’s coda, but never once does Dobson succeed in making clear what her thesis really is.
Still, it’s hard to ask for much more from an artist that has just given us "See These Eyes" and "Great Light". The latter is probably Secrets
’ most surprising moment – an unexpectedly tender sequence in a parade of guitar-shredding, key-pounding numbers; think Small Craft on a Milk Sea
’s “Emerald and Lime” sandwiched between a couple of tracks by Blur and Springsteen. It’s a snapshot of raw vulnerability and untapped power that hints at much greater things lying ahead for this young band. "I’ll climb a ladder to the northern lights," vows Dobson, sounding so determined that you just know she’ll pull it off someday.