As I pointed out before when writing about his debut release, I Don’t Want To Stay, Jeremy Engel has a way for dancing deftly along a fine line between folk music and refined indie vibes, between the accessibility of the pop ballad and the depth of more discerning, perhaps even classical, genres. And Secret Place follows on very much in that tradition.
It is more tasteful than your average folk song, the rustic and raw nature of the genre smoothed off by the polish of the playing. It is less ornate than a classical piece but is woven, in part, from the same rich sonic palette, meandering, melancholy violins, sweeping cello washes and understated piano. It is smarter than your average indie song, although it uses the standard instrumentation of that world, uses the same ebb and flows to create drama and depth, but opts for being tactile and tasteful rather than broad and bombastic. It even has the same easy addiction that makes pop so…well, popular, but resorts to none of its cheap sonic tricks. Whichever way you look at Secret Place, it sits head and shoulders above its sonic rivals.
And great as the musicianship and composition are, the music is happy to act as a platform for the voice, always there as a springboard for the vocal crescendos and lulling drops, the emotive highs and the reflective lows but never feeling the need to encroach on the spotlight. And the vocal is gorgeous, worldly, wise and wonderfully knowledgable, able to enchant with its breathy beauty and hazy harmonies, subdue and seductive with its suppleness and subtlety.
If Secret Place proves just one thing, it is that music doesn’t have to be brash and bombastic to make an impact, it can be clever and cooly understated, emotional, poignant and deftly delivered. It can also be full of space and it is space that is the key ingredient here. Whilst it might seem as if there is often a lot going on, everything is allowed to breathe perfectly and that is what leaves the lasting impression.
It is the lingering pause for breath as one line or lyric floats away and before the next one is conjured; it is the space between the chord or beat that allows the sounds to percolate and swirl, form new atmospheres and create anticipation in the spaces between, below and beyond the music; it is about what is not played or sung but in the things that naturally evolve in the DNA of the song which adds so much. And that comes from leaving room for such alchemy to happen naturally. And if you are not sure how you do that, then keep playing this song until you understand the power of understatement.