Secret Rivals – ‘Once More With Heart/I Know Something’ (It’s All Happening!)


‘Swagger’ is probably the most overused word in music. Irreversibly connected with the self-indulgent lad-rock of Oasis and Kasabian, it has begun to imply that a band may be compensating for something – usually talent or brain cells, with those two examples in mind. The problem with this double A-side from Oxford quartet Secret Rivals is that while they are clearly blessed with both brains and talent in abundance, they sound determined to project an image of defiant arrogance that directly contradicts the sensitivity of their music.

The aggressive thump of the rhythm section at the start of Once More With Heart sounds like a dissapointingly generic effort to shout ‘look at me, I’m dark and dangerous!’ to any potential listeners, in much the same way that the loping swagger of 16-year old male Oasis fans tends to be an attempt to mask the pubescent insecurity of their hormone-addled brains. And yes, this reviewer was one of those once. Ultimately, such an attention-seeking introduction doesn’t work – the fuzzy, on-the-beat bassline and alternating bass drum and snare sounds a little too much like Fall Out Boy‘s Dance Dance or American Idiot-era Green Day for it to make anyone really sit up and take notice. Fortunately, it’s all uphill from there, and Secret Rivals turn out to be a rather exciting listen indeed. The contrasting timbres of the boy-girl vocal pairing complement each other nicely, recalling Los Campesinos! at their most energetic, and the drumming uses a pretty conventional noughties disco-rock beat to great effect – if you’re foot isn’t tapping by the time the line ‘I’ll decide when you’ve had enough’ propels the chorus into overdrive, you should check to make sure it’s still there.

I Know Something is a relatively thoughtful effort, eschewing the muscle-flexing of the preceding track for a more engaging dynamic approach. This song’s early stages betray a tenderness that Secret Rivals seem inexplicably determined to hide on Once More With Heart. A lone female vocal is set against tinny electronic drums and echoing guitar, and this fragile tension sets them up nicely for the crashing distortion of the chorus. ‘I know something you dont’t know about’, sings Cloud (yep, that’s actually her name), as the full band screeches into life. Her lyrics, as on the previous track, can sometimes seem to be trying too hard to capture that ‘swagger’, a forced self-confidence that obscures the far more appealing imperfections of the vocals and the band’s general sound. The production seems to meander along a slightly confused path between garage demo and studio quality, and this may be why the second song – arguably the better track here – is relegated to second place. It’s this semi-DIY quality that is Secret Rivals’ greatest strength – it fits in well with a certain insecurity in the vocal delivery that makes them stand out from other heavy, female-fronted bands like The Joy Formidable, and hopefully its a feature they’ll retain as they move on to bigger and brighter things.

Secret Rivals are still finding their feet while perhaps trying to sound like they’ve got it all sussed, but this is a pretty promising effort from a band with a lot going for them. They’ve already featured on various new music showcases and (bizarrely) Sky’s Soccer AM. Insert cheap pun about goals here.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.