Secret Mommy | Plays (Ache)

plays Plays is a world of its own, where digital noise, cut-up collage, and accordion circles collide.


Four Tet with an expressionistic edge, Kid606 with an ear for melody, the Books with beats. Vancouver's Secret Mommy have turned out the album of their career with an ear tuned to the chaos inherent in collaboration, as well as the appreciation of simple beauty found even in the most experimental music. Secret Mommy's less-secretive mastermind Andy Dixon has been creating glitchy, art-conscious electronica over the course of six releases, most often favoring the cold recesses of digital manipulation to live instrumentation. On Plays, the two coexist more comfortably than I have heard since the Notwist's Neon Golden.

Plays is a world of its own, where digital noise, cut-up collage, and accordion circles collide. Enlisting the help of at least a dozen collaborators, Dixon alternates between creating meditations on sound—what a voice sounds like filtered and inverted, how a ukulele is percussion, how percussion is ambient—and creating the most melodic, catchy glitch-hop since the genre's emergence.

It does not hurt that Dixon has talented friends. As has become a standard creative tool for Secret Mommy, he set out rules for the album. In the past, he has released albums using sound only from tropical areas (Hawaii 5.0) or only from recreational centers, (Very Rec). Here, he uses no electrified instruments or synthesized sounds. A specific personality emerges. Emotion just occurs instead of being created. If I had to use one modifier to encapsulate the mood, it would be joyous. The songs move with such starry-eyed wonder that one forgets that these instruments are twisted from any known context, uprooted from preconceived ideas of what a recorder, ukulele, mandolin, violin, much less vocals, should sound like.

Plays is that unique piece of art that finds freedom in restriction. Without so much as a single synthesized note, the album says more about the possibilities for electronic music than BT's entire back catalogue. Immensely listenable, yet challenging at every turn, its experimentalism remains in communication with melody, its glitched beats with movement, and its manipulations with song craft. It is not a new concept for this kind of music, just a better definition. A- | James McAnally

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