Countdown to Zero Director: Lucy Walker USA, 2010 Countdown to Zero shakes off all the dirt, rumors, myths, and outright lies when it comes to the danger of nuclear terrorism. Using John F. Kennedy’s famous quote comparing nuclear weapons to the hanging sword of Damocles as a framework, director Lucy Walker’s documentary...

Secret Cities are a psych-pop trio from Fargo, North Dakota. And much like the Coen brothers' film of the same name, Pink Graffiti is a wonderful dreamscape of complicit artistry and deliberate complexity. Though comparable to other pop savants such as Wolf Parade or Chad VanGaalen, Pink Graffiti stands out...

It doesn't surprise me that Caribou (stage name of one Daniel Victor Snaith) has a PhD in Math. Talk to a math nerd for more than an hour about anything, and you'll find that, more often than not, they relish in the joy of deconstructing and dismantling any little thing,...

Don't look now, but Secret Cities, a trio (now quartet!) of music makers hailing from the Midwest, might have made the most enjoyable album of the year. Their debut, Pink Graffiti, is a laid-back, charismatic indie-pop album in the best sense, joyously constructed without being overly dramatic. This band is all about layers: layers of vocals harmonizing in and out, layers of acoustic, analog, digital sounds, and layers of lyrics that stick in your mind with the utmost poignancy. We got a chance to talk to the trio just as they finished touring the US about their album, about songwriting via snail mail, about the fact/fiction behind the movie Fargo and about how Brian Wilson is kind of a jerk!
What's the story behind Secret Cities? How long have you been playing together? Charlie Gokey: MJ (Marie Parker) and I have been making music together since we were kids. We met at band camp around 2001, kept in touch through the internet, then eventually started exchanging tapes through the mail. Alex [Abnos] joined around 2005 when we toured for the first time. I met him on the internet, and fortunately, it turned out he's not a murderer or a 50-year-old pedophile. Right from the start, we've never really lived in the same place. I only see Al and MJ when we're going to tour or record.

Can you explain the concept behind the album I've been hearing about? Gokey: I kind of forced this on everyone like a jerk. It's not like the whole album is about any one thing. There are just a bunch of songs about the relationship between people and music, the relationship between people and other people, and those relationships getting kind of mixed up. That sounds like an absurd, pretentious thing, but that theme just sort of developed naturally. When we were just starting to record the album, my girlfriend and I split up. Shortly thereafter, I saw that Brian Wilson was signing his new record at a nearby Borders. I felt compelled to go see him because I had written a little about him in college, plus certain songs he wrote were pretty intimately tied up with this relationship I had just gotten out of. When I actually saw him and tried to talk to him, I was shocked by how old he looked, how little he cared that I was trying to say something to him, by the reality of his personhood. After that weirdness, Brian Wilson became the central figure in my writing -- sort of an easy place to start in sorting through the intense emotions of that breakup and the process of making music.

Listen to "Pink Graffiti, Pt. 1" - DOWNLOAD MP3

The saying might go, "You can't judge a book by its cover," but any critic who has sifted through dozens of CDs/movies/books/whatever will tell you that first impressions matter greatly. That's why God invented press kits and photos -- so we can weed out the people who don't give a...

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Do you enjoy tea parties and cucumber sandwiches? Do you make regular visits to your grandmother, or in other cases, your local senior citizens' home? Does your wardrobe consist of mostly sweaters, slacks, and loafers (vintage, of course)? If so, you probably already know about the new album from the...