Secret Boyfriend: This Is Always Where You’ve Lived
Similar Artists: Helm, The Hospitals, 18+
Genre: Not-noise, Experimental, Shitgaze, Sound Collage
Label: Blackest Ever Black

Usually when I write a review, I try to focus on the emotional impact of the music, as well as the response the music is intending to make on the listener. However, with This Is Always Where You’ve Lived — the first true full-length from North Carolina’s Ryan Martin (AKA Secret Boyfriend) — nothing comes easy in terms of categorization. In fact, these mysterious and elusive tracks often resist words at all, which in my interpretation is one of the reasons so little has been written about the artist throughout his nearly decade long career. Until now, he has made ends meet in the music world through a limited run of cassette only releases, split LPs, and his own Hot Releases imprint. This release sees Martin combining his wide array of musical ideas into a concise and fully realized statement that borrows little and asks for nothing. Still, as big a statement for Secret Boyfriend as this is, these 12 largely dissimilar tracks — while somehow coexisting harmoniously within the same album — all contradict one another as pieces, and one by one will blank out your previous theories about exactly who this Secret Boyfriend guy is.

It turns out I’m not the only one having trouble pinpointing this artist either, as Ryan Martin has become known in the N.C underground for his unpredictable live shows which range from aggressive, anarchistic noise fests to creepy vocal modified acoustic numbers. While starting off as a kind of tongue-in-cheek performance artist looking to breed awkwardness, he has clearly moved on to bigger and better things in recent years. The music on this release is a combination of dreamy, painfully lo-fi (folk?) songs, divisively simple keyboard melodies, abstract electronic noodling/sampling, fuzz-laden ambient soundscapes, and the occasional detour into Japanese caliber noise. It’s quite possibly the most varied of the DIY albums I listened to in 2013, and certainly one of the most unusual to come out on Blackest Ever Black. Despite these contrasting elements though, the music works because all of these fragmented pieces join arms and unite to create a musical experience that’s quite unlike any other I’ve had within recent memory. It’s a bizarre, otherworldly venture that’s also strangely nostalgic; like we are being taken down a chain of childhood memories that we never actually had.

Calling Secret Boyfriend a collage artist might put it best, because his productions consist of around half a dozen simple elements that are loosely conjoined to form a new, alien-like identity. It must be said, even for music this independently based, the core musicianship here can be pretty lousy. Fortunately, it appears that Martin knows what he’s doing around 3/4ths of the time and for the most part what he’s doing remains impressive despite some obvious shortcomings. All the leading melodies are well thought out, and his occasionally shoddy guitar playing/keyboard skills actually end up adding personality instead of distracting from the experience.

Unlike most non-musicians working in the field of experimentalia — excepting the opening 5 seconds of “Summer Wheels/Mysterious Fires” and the battalion ready final track — Martin mostly strays away from anything violently harsh. All the haphazardous knob twiddling and amateurish discrepancies are reserved for the background, which is why these tracks happen to be such a warm and inviting bunch for a scene that prides itself with freakouts. As daunting a title as This Is Always Where You’ve Lived may seem, it wouldn’t be a bad place to settle down in for a few months, which isn’t something I could say about most music this daring and abstract.

The world that Martin has created here is one that’s steeped in fantastical daydreams and a youthful longing. Above all else, the album is defined by its hazy atmosphere and ultra loose feel that refuses precision as a means towards greatness. Only occasionally — such as on the Haxon Cloak-like “Remarkable Fluids” or the titular closing track — does this lighthearted mood transform into something nightmarish, and even then it remains an exciting detour. On the other hand, many tracks, including the 8 minute standout “Deleted Hill”, are so devoid of structure that they end up falling apart entirely, so it’s a good thing that watching them do so happens to be absolutely mesmerizing.

Upon closer inspection, Secret Boyfriend is far from lazy, and he has indeed put a plentiful amount of work and detail into these productions: his talent just doesn’t happen to be in the places you would normally look for it. Even after listening to This Is Always Where You’ve Lived for several days, I continue to be surprised at how Martin can be wondrously adept in certain fields (layering tracks, atmosphere) while being mindlessly incompetent in others (properly tuning a guitar, remaining on beat). Despite these factors though, listening to Secret Boyfriend is far from frustrating , and I would recommend taking a peek to anyone who’s looking for a journey through the strange and bewildering without wanting to sacrifice the chance to be uplifted.

Track Listing:
1.) Summer Wheels/Mysterious Fires*
2.) Silvering The Wing
3.) Form Me*
4.) Flashback
5.) Remarkable Fluids
6.) Beyond the Darkness*
7.) Dream Scrape
8.) Glint and Follow You
9.) Have You Heard About This House
10.) Last Town
11.) Deleted Hill*
12.) This Is Always Where You’ve Lived*

Album Highlight – *