Album: Heavy Feels
Artist: Secret American
Genre: Indie/Alternative Rock
Recommend Tracks: “Lonely,” “Shadows in the Sunshine,” “What is Promise,” and “Say You Is”
Are you looking for new music to reminisce on just how awful 2020 was? Do you enjoy being pretentious about listening to small bands that “no one knows, man?” Do you like chill indie rock? Then do I have the album for you! Heavy Feels is the sophomore project from the indie band Secret American, released on Nov. 6, 2020. The follow-up to their 2018 debut Warmth & Shelter, Heavy Feels brings a lot more depth to the table and illustrates the band’s sonic and emotional growth. Exploring topics of intimacy, masculinity, and social failures, this album splits off from their previous, more upbeat-sounding work, and serves as a great backdrop to look back on the madness of the year from (especially listening to their quarantined “2020” from the album). A whopping seven-member band spread across both the west and east coast, Secret American is a textbook example of a ‘bedroom pop’ band, something only possible in the time of the internet, but without losing any of their production quality. Heavy Feels beautifully combines all of this and more, and is one of my favorite underground releases from last year.
The album makes its thesis known from the opening track, “Shadows in the Sunshine,” bringing back the band’s beachy, happy sound from their last album, but implying that there are shadows and bad days coming, as well as longing for an escape from society. This leads into the lead single from the album, “Lonely,” diving full into introspection while still keeping the tone energetic. Rounding out the first section of the album is the title track “Heavy Feels,” completely pivoting from their usual sound to a much more laid-back, chilled vibe, bringing in bell-like xylophone notes and creating a lounge-like atmosphere. This sets the tone for the rest of the project. Secret American becomes much more experimental, adding a much more complex rhythm section and bringing in soul and blues influences, while lyrically exploring what it means to be a man and what it means to be intimate and loving within the societal standards of masculinity.
Further in the album, “What is Promise” tries to be optimistic and positive in answering those questions, and “Don’t Change” keeps that tempo, before ending the first half of the album with “Say You Is.” One of the most streamed songs off the album, “Say You Is,” brings together a gorgeous, melancholic storm of these optimistic expectations with the sadness that can come with self-reflection and honesty, and dictates the coming slower-paced, ‘sadboi hours’ songs. It’s an incredible emotional climax, and brings a maturity and emotional complexity that simply wasn’t present in Secret American’s prior work. If you’re a person who prefers listening to albums beginning to end, it’s a truly goosebump-inducing moment.
As the album begins to close, “2020” and “Bye Bye Blue” pass, pairing the new, more depressed tone with looking back on the year and reflecting on the fear of intimacy, especially during a period (that is still ongoing! Wear a mask you plague rats!) where people can’t safely see each other. Following these are “This Could be the Day” and “Here Comes a Man,” the former acting as a sharp critique of modern American society (after all, this band is Secret American; being ashamed of the U.S. is the antithesis of it), while the latter ends on a much more jaded and slow tempo perspective of modern relationships and the expectations both placed on and put out by masculine figures and masculinity in general in pursuing them. The final two tracks aren’t really ‘songs’ per se, as “Afterglow” is just a minute-long fade out of the final chord of “Here Comes a Man,” and “Kinda Cute, Kinda Crazy” is just an outro of an audio sample of a how-I-met-your-mother-style story from a mother’s perspective, played over a simple instrumental.
All in all, this is an extraordinarily impressive album, especially considering the circumstances it was made in. While the lead single “Lonely” was originally released in 2019, the majority of this project was presumably created in quarantine, during the pandemic, by seven people strewn across the country. It also stood out to me that the production quality of Heavy Feels felt like a label-backed, studio endeavor, not over the internet by a band with only 1000 followers on Instagram. This, combined with a big leap in sonic and emotional development for the group as a whole, had the album blow me away. Even if you only have time for a few songs, “Lonely” is absolutely worth a listen, alongside “Say You Is,” “Shadows in the Sunshine,” and “What is Promise” (if for nothing else than the brain f—k of hearing someone sing “What is love?” and not have it followed by “baby don’t hurt me”). Considering all of this, I personally give Heavy Feels a 7.8/10; the only negative aspect I noticed was how the album effectively ended at “Here Comes a Man” since the final two tracks served a glorified outro and didn’t have much replay value. This is one of my favorite albums of 2020, and — whether you’re looking for some soulful indie rock or just want to support a small band — it’s worth a listen.
Featured Photo Courtesy of The Key @ XPN – WXPN / Secret American