The Secret Handshake - My Name Up in Lights
Record Label: Triple Crown Records
Release Date: April 21, 2009
Luis Dubuc, the one man electro-tinged act alternatively known as The Secret Handshake, is back with his second full-length for Triple Crown.
How Is It?
For me, My Name Up in Lights seems like a make-or-break album for The Secret Handshake. His debut, One Full Year, was nothing Earth-shattering, but nonetheless contained moments that even someone like myself, with tastes more rooted in '90s indie-rock than anything else, found charming. There's no doubt that it exuded a bit of immaturity, but offered some reasons for optimism, with tracks like the slow-burning "Midnight Movie," on which the often-reviled vocoder effects added a sinewy texture to Dubuc's vocal, and ironically, seemed to inject more emotion into the song than his voice alone would have done. In short, that album exhibited that all-important potential, but left plenty of room for growth.
For those with similar thoughts on the debut, who thought that My Name Up in Lights might actually be a solid electro-pop offering, I'm sorry to say that it's not that at all. There are, indeed, songs that aren't bad on their own, but as a whole, the album has some major flaws that run through it, pretty much ruining its enjoyability. For one, the vocal performances leave a lot to be desired and are occasionally cringe-worthy. It's not the Auto-tune-- as I stated before, this has been a positive factor in some of his songs before-- but the fact that he sounds unpolished and ill at ease behind the microphone. Frankly, Dubuc has a stiff vocal quality and uses awkward enunciations and accentuations, similar to what hinders singers like Shaant Hacikyan, Seth Trotter (The Higher) and Andrew de Torres (Danger Radio), and it's something that the Auto-tune simply can't hide. If the tweener girl demographic is what you're aiming for, this appears to be the way to go, but while they shake their asses, the rest of us are just going to shake our heads.
Secondly, Dubuc seems to have regressed as a lyricist, focusing more on schoolboy crush songs than on anything with real substance. Since the guy is happily in a relationship now, it's understandable that these songs would lean toward the happier side, but they're also sophomoric, such that anyone past, say, tenth grade would find them cheesy at best. Just a note to those young guys hearing stuff like "Little Song" ("I wanna write the soundtrack to your life and live it with you"), and "Saturday" ("You thought we were just friends, but all this time, I had plans to make you more, maybe be my girlfriend"): acting this bubbly around girls is not smooth and will not get you laid. You'll just look like a loser.
On a positive note, Dubuc does a solid job of writing catchy pop melodies, and on the whole, they sound pretty good musically. Case in point are the two strongest songs on the album, "What's Wrong" and "Hey Girl," which surprisingly were not among the songs exposed to the masses prior to the release, as they would seem to be the most marketable. The former is a mid-80's-styled pop number that generally avoids the missteps found on the rest of the album, while the latter is equally catchy, but is also indicative of the fact that Dubuc showed up for class during Pop Music Cliches 101 ("I don't want to be your lover, if you don't want to be my friend"), though admittedly, it sounds like something that would be covered on American Idol, a compliment I guess, considering the style of music.
I'll only comment briefly on how discouraged I am that, on the press release, Dubuc claims that the '90s are a major influence on this record, as that decade produced some amazing music, both underground and mainstream, and My Name Up in Lights simply doesn't measure up with even the least memorable albums of that era. Perhaps the press release also offered some insight as to why that is: Dubuc says, "I didn't want anyone else to have input. I wanted to just do it. No one could stop me from doing anything." I can't deny Dubuc's ability to arrange a pop song, but he might want to question his career as a frontman. Had someone else written lyrics for and sung these songs, something quite a bit better might have resulted. As it stands, My Name Up in Lights has a few moments of relative brilliance, but mostly disappoints.