After a summer of festivals, radio endorsements and gigging, Oxford’s Secret Rivals have followed in the footsteps of their indie pop contemporaries Alphabet Backwards, by releasing their debut album Make Do And Mend on West London based Kittiwake Records. Evoking comparisons to bands such Los Campesinos, Blood Red Shoes and Johnny Foreigner, not least because of their ‘fight-pop’ style and aggressive vocals, Secret Rivals have set the bar high in terms of the influences they cite so readily.
It’s on first track ‘Ghosting’ where the Los Campesinos comparisons are most fitting, and the link becomes less prominent the further one gets into the album, suggesting perhaps that a different track order would lessen the immediate association. However, ‘Ghosting’, is the obvious opener, as it clearly picks up where last year’s Start Fires EP left off, lively boy/girl vocals accompany stabbing guitars and forceful drumming.
Lead single ‘Tonight Matthew’ has already enjoyed relative commercial success – indeed Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank made it his track of the day, and invited the band to play at Bestival off the back of it. The contrast between girl-vocalist Clouds’ sweet melody and boy-vocalist Jay’s almost jarring shouting, provides the main focus of the song, and genuinely works really well, both elements balancing out the potential flaws of the other before they come to exist. The same cannot be said for every song on the record however, on ‘We’re Not Leaving You Again’; Jay’s vocals feel, in places, irritatingly redundant.
Closer and title track ‘Make Do And Mend’, barely over a minute long, and consisting of a scant plucked guitar line and Jay’s unexpectedly soft vocals, “there’s nothing we can’t make right” he sings, a mournful vulnerability about his voice that so much opposes the singing on the rest of the record, it’s hard to believe it’s the same guy.
As a mini-album, Make Do and Mend treads that fine line between collected and diverse, managing to both know its own bearing, and be able to waver from it, in an entirely purposeful fashion. In short – if Secret Rivals keep going the way they have been, it’s pretty certain they’ll be Oxford’s next breakthrough act.
Released in September 2011 by HasLegs Records