SXSW Preview: North Dakota’s Secret Cities

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Strange Hearts sounds like it could be ‘60s Caribbean-soul nugget. That’s quite strange considering Secret Cities is actually a young band from Fargo, North Dakota, and the three band members recorded the record in the basement of an abandoned bank in Kansas City.

Pink Graffiti, their debut, came out last year, and while it garnered generally positive response, it kept them flying mostly under the radar. Relying on ‘80s synths and beats, it didn’t do enough to distinguish them from their peers in 2010.

But Strange Hearts takes a simpler approach than its predecessor, and also has better songs. The band doesn’t give up electronic elements entirely, but they use them in more effective ways. Keyboardist Marie Parker really steps into her own too, as a singer and songwriter. On “The Park,” she’s a classic heartbreaker.

On Parker’s tracks, you might draw a pure pop comparison to Tennis, though Strange Hearts has better arrangements and is often much darker. The best songs, like opener “Always Friends,” employ a reggae backbeat and a Jamaican low-end, and the whole album has a warm production value, compliments of crunchy guitars and boxey drums.

With a killer record under their belts, Secret Cities should be one of this year’s most enjoyable bands in Austin. Strange Hearts will be released by Western Vinyl on March 29. The band’s SXSW dates are below:

March 17, Bad Dad Zine release show at 500 east 2nd St. (6:30)
March 18, Austin Psych Fest at Spiderhouse
March 18, Redefine Mag SXSW party at House of Commons (4:30)
March 19, Western Vinyl official SXSW showcase at Lambert’s

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