Desolation Town, is the debut EP from New York City’s The Secret History to be released by the Le Grand Magistery record label. The Secret History was formed in 2007 by songwriter Michael Grace Jr., best known for acclaimed cult indie pop band My Favorite.
The Secret History also features vocalist Lisa Ronson, daughter of Bowie guitarist, and glam-rock legend Mick Ronson. Le Grand Magistery is a label which has earned it’s reputation as a critics favorite by bringing artists like Stars, Momus, Baxendale and PAS/CAL to American ears for the first time.
The Secret History continues as a vehicle for Grace’s myth and monster laden song writing, which unfolds across cinematic landscapes…part New York in the late 1970s, part Sicily at the turn of the last century, part Nowhere.
The sound itself, created by longtime collaborators Darren Amadio on guitar, Todd Karrasik on drums, Gil Abad on bass, and Kurt Brondo on keys, is a kind of continental art rock, combining the rainy jangles of C86, the stomp of glam, the innocence of the girl groups, and the anxiety of disco. Comparisons to Roxy Music, The Patti Smith Group, Felt and The Smiths scratch the surface.
The words form the libretto of a mope rock opera, concerning the members of a fictional band called The Haunted Hearts. Their stories parallel Grace’s own, whose decade long relationship with My Favorite’s vocalist disintegrated in 2001, to be followed shortly after by the disintegration of the band… which had consumed his entire adult life.
Grace first met vocalist Lisa Ronson at an Irish speak-easy in the East Village called ‘The Scratcher,’ with the third verse of Dylan’s “Desolation Row” echoing through the bar (a moment referenced in the title of the EP) She was living in Chinatown, bookkeeping for the Museum of Modern Art when she answered an ad in The Village Voice seeking a “Female Voice/Tragic Cult Figure.” Her dad, Mick Ronson, was the greatest Spider from Mars (and producer on Lou Reed’s Transformer and Morrissey’s Your Arsenal), and that was tragic enough, but it was the voice...and everything desperate just under the surface of it... that convinced the lads.
The addition of Erin Dermody, an ethereal young lady in dress, to sing harmonies, completed the new project. A sold out debut at Cakeshop (which Grace dubbed CBTweeB’s) was followed by shows alongside Love Is All, Boyracer, My Teenage Stride, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Dig and others. They also appeared at the legendary 40 Watt Club for the Athens Popfest.
The songs of Michael Grace Jr. have made fans of some of his favorite artists, leading to opening slots with Belle & Sebastian and The Magnetic Fields. Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople fame was seen tapping his foot at a recent performance, and Grace’s song “The Happiest Days of My Life” was chosen by Morrissey himself to be part of his pre-concert music in 2006 alongside his usual list of heroes and fascinations. But perhaps most importantly, his songs are included on mix tapes the world over by indie kids in the know, who wander into a dark, emotional universe that most of the mainstream music press has never glimpsed.
About Desolation Town:
The lead track “It’s Not The End of The World, Jonah” presents the shabby end of a hipster ‘belle epoch’ as an allusion laden night at the discothèque, where all memory and desire collapse. Driven by brittle funk and a dramatic trumpet break by frequent Arcade Fire member Kelly Pratt, the song becomes a vehicle for the longing and unease in Ms. Ronson’s voice, alternating in fits and starts. “Our Lady of Pompeii” meanwhile tells a tale of alienation from the perspective of an Iraq War soldier who leaves his girl and his rock n’ roll band behind to find dubious redemption in the dust of Fallujah. The drums and piano lock into a glam rock stomp that shatters the tune, and the protagonist alike.
“The Ballad of The Haunted Hearts” somehow marries “Still Ill,” to “Like a Rolling Stone” in a Spector-esque slab of anthem pop. The psychedelic no-wave of “Obelisk,” leads right into the power chord and farfisa swirl of “Mark & John (Bring on The Glitter Kids.)” This live favorite turns The New York Dolls inside out, in a gothic meditation on the death of John Lennon and The New Testament.
The ghost of Giorgio Moroder makes an appearance during the middle 8, but God fails to. The EP concludes with “Our Lady of Palermo,” a redemption seeking “lamentation” ballad in the finest 19th century folk tradition. The girls create a haunting harmony over accordion and guitar eulogy... part Gram Parsons, part Cocteau Twins. Grace transplants a depressive youth in Long Island to Palermo, Sicily… the tortured city of his great grandparents. The plaintive concession that “our dreams are wrong,” closes a chapter while opening up the narrative of what’s to come.
The Secret History Live:
11/20 Brooklyn, NY Public Assembly (Record Release Party!)
Artist: The Secret History
Title: Desolation Town EP
Label: Le Grand Magistery
Release Date: November 11th, 2008
01. It’s Not The End of The World, Jonah
02. Our Lady of Pompeii
03. The Ballad of The Haunted Hearts
04. Obelisk/Mark and John
05. Our Lady of Palermo
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