Over one year in the making, Plays is Secret Mommy's crowning achievement.
Although written in a vernacular native to Secret Mommy, a language of
splintered electronic mischief and jarring digital edits, Plays is no doubt
an outing from previous work. Unlike the rigid and regimented creative
processes of previous work (Very Rec, 2005, created entirely from recordings
of public recreational centres, or Hawaii 5.0, 2004, created from the sounds
of tropical areas), Plays is looser in this area, focusing instead on
achieving warmth and personality.
In January 2006, Andy Dixon, AKA Secret Mommy, booked time at The Hive, a
studio owned and operated by his long-term friend and ex band mate, Jesse
Gander. Dixon had decided that it was time to showcase his experience as a
guitarist, songwriter, and lyricist, and take advantage of the fact that,
due to this experience, his core group of friends consisted almost entirely
of other musicians and writers. Dixon invited an assembly of fellow
musicians (Juno award winning violinist, Jesse Zubot; Todd Macdonald, Tyr
Jami, and Paul Patko of THE WINKS; Shane Krause and Ryan McCormick of THEY
SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?; Sean Maxey, Berry Higginson, and Sarah Jane of
THE DOERS, and many more) to record hours of material, sometimes expanding
on riffs and motifs pre-written by Andy, but more often the group embraced
the magic of improvised chance.
The one stipulation of the recording process was that no instrument was
allowed to be electrified. No electricity would be used at all (except of
course, to operate the recording gear). The idea was to create the most
anti-electronic electronic album, free of any synthetic sounds (no electric
guitar, let alone synths or drum machines), opting for an earthiness and
The result is just that.
Plays swells with human warmth. Strings, brass, and woodwinds form a veil of
lush and vivid melodies over top of Mr. Mommy’s brand of jolting and
meticulous electronics. Since the composing stage was done primarily after
the recording process, Plays has a jarring cut n’ paste feel to it, as if it
where a remix album of phantom songs, composed and then scientifically
dissected and rearranged into newer more exciting forms. Balancing the
precise and disciplined characteristics are moments in which the velvet
curtains of structure pull back to reveal the original free-improv
recordings, illustrating the vast talent of all the musicians lucidly.
Designed to coalesce two
disconnected aspects of Dixon’s creative past, Plays acts as the crude,
man-made path that joins two fields: The first being his relatively
new-found love for sound manipulation and electronic cutting and pasting,
and the other is his fifteen years experience as an accomplished songwriter
and guitarist in Vancouver’s punk and hardcore music scene; an aspect of his
creativity that is perhaps unknown to his more recently obtained supporters.
There are those who have stumbled upon his music blindly through a back door
unknown even to Dixon himself; via a path birthing from the techno scene, a
movement that Dixon admittedly feels little personal connection to.
Andy’s pull toward experimental electronic music was a reaction to the
shameless commercialization of the punk scene. Music which Andy equated with
unbridled rebellion was suddenly corporate interest; a commodity. It was
also apparent to Andy that punk and hardcore music was becoming stagnant,
verging on self parody. Furthermore, a sense of open-mindedness Dixon had
connected to the punk scene was diminishing, garnering a strange and
conflicting traditionalism and losing a certain forward thinking mindset.
It is apparent that the feeling of no longer belonging to any particular
notion or tribe has permeated Andy’s creative output ever since. One needs
only to take a look at his label, Ache Records, and it’s staggeringly
diverse roster (Konono No1, Death From Above 1979, Rauhan Orkesteri, etc.),
or Dixon’s deliberate refusal to buy into conventional marketing strategies
to note a blatant disregard for cultural stigma. This is also the fuel for
the twelve songs which make up Plays.
Ultimately, Plays is a tremendous achievement. It serves as a reminder that
sometimes one must expand past the traditions of one’s past to find their
calling, even when they feel their most lost.
Mommy official website
"It's conceptual, but
it's also hooky, luscious, and startlingly alive. Overclocked percussion
that helixes and strobes is de rigueur; ditto lush acoustic melodies
that stutter and glide. Lush aural pinwheels blossom and burst at
such an astonishing clip that there's hardly time to register one
before the next is upon you"
Tet with an expressionistic edge, Kid606 with an ear for melody, the
Books with beats. Vancouver's Secret Mommy have turned out the album
of their career with an ear tuned to the chaos inherent in collaboration,
as well as the appreciation of simple beauty found even in the most
experimental music. Secret Mommy's less-secretive mastermind Andy
Dixon has been creating glitchy, art-conscious electronica over the
course of six releases, most often favoring the cold recesses of digital
manipulation to live instrumentation. On Plays, the two coexist more
comfortably than I have heard since the Notwist's Neon Golden.
Plays is a world
of its own, where digital noise, cut-up collage, and accordion circles
collide. Enlisting the help of at least a dozen collaborators, Dixon
alternates between creating meditations on sound—what a voice
sounds like filtered and inverted, how a ukulele is percussion, how
percussion is ambient—and creating the most melodic, catchy
glitch-hop since the genre's emergence.
It does not hurt
that Dixon has talented friends. As has become a standard creative
tool for Secret Mommy, he set out rules for the album. In the past,
he has released albums using sound only from tropical areas (Hawaii
5.0) or only from recreational centers, (Very Rec). Here, he uses
no electrified instruments or synthesized sounds. A specific personality
emerges. Emotion just occurs instead of being created. If I had to
use one modifier to encapsulate the mood, it would be joyous. The
songs move with such starry-eyed wonder that one forgets that these
instruments are twisted from any known context, uprooted from preconceived
ideas of what a recorder, ukulele, mandolin, violin, much less vocals,
should sound like.
Plays is that
unique piece of art that finds freedom in restriction. Without so
much as a single synthesized note, the album says more about the possibilities
for electronic music than BT's entire back catalogue. Immensely listenable,
yet challenging at every turn, its experimentalism remains in communication
with melody, its glitched beats with movement, and its manipulations
with song craft. It is not a new concept for this kind of music, just
a better definition."
"This is one of the most interesting cut-up,
glitchy albums I’ve heard in the past year, and in a year that
includes releases from Coldcut and Squarepusher, this is no small
praise. Secret Mommy has created an album that is interesting, engaging,
and, defying convention for the glitch genre, listenable and fun.
Plays will be in heavy rotation, for me, for some time to come."
"Despite the absence
of drum machines and synths, this still manages to fall into the realm
of IDM due to the massive automated bastardisation of many of the
samples used, and there are certainly a wide variety, from the mandolin
to a violin played with Styrofoam. However, one of the album’s
best attributes is the perfect balance of natural sounds in contrast
with the manipulated recordings. A number of tracks are pleasantly
reminiscent of Prefuse 73 Reads The Books in instrumentation and upbeat
optimism (“Kool Aid River” and “Diciduism”)
but the title track epitomises the essence of Plays, from the virginal
woodwind sounds and glitchy percussion to the distorted beeps and
contorted vocals, with uplifting wails of resolution."
Mommy began as The Epidemic, the electronically tinged solo project
of Vancouver’s punk-poster boy Andy Dixon (d.b.s., The Red Light
Sting, Winning, and Ache Records). After one album and a name change,
Andy embarked on Secret Mommy, a field sampling-based assault on musical
On Very Rec, he donned hidden microphones
to record and reinvent sounds from a slew of "recreational"
places including tennis courts, yoga studios and swimming pools. On
Hawaii 5-0, he crafted songs out of samples recorded during his Hawaiian
vacation, and the The Wisdom EP is composed entirely out of sounds
made during the removal of his wisdom teeth.
Plays is Secret Mommy’s sixth outing, and one
that was almost a whole year in the making. In January of 2006, Dixon
booked time at the Hive studios in Vancouver and invited a number
of musicians, many of whom were Andy’s former collaborators,
to jam and expand on loose, pre-written motifs. The only catch was
that no electrified instruments could be used. The goal was to create
an un-electronic electronic album.
The result is a glitch noise album awash in humanity.
Fingerpicked guitar licks are bent and twisted around violin, brass
and woodwind samples and then layered over human voices, and the syncopated,
digital clicks and pops that populate the landscape of Andy’s
earlier records. Dixon’s meticulous attention to detail shines
on every song, and he’s able to scientifically dissect tracks
without losing the improvisational feel of the original recordings.
Plays’ finest moments are the ones where the
fractured vocal tracks bring the human element to the fore. Gregory
Adams’ (The Red Light Sting) distinctive pipes are able to lift
“Kool Aid River” into pop territory, and the beautiful
‘woo-hoos’ on the title track lend the song an aura of
sentience and emotion that more than makes up for the lack of traditional
I feel like I could go on about this record forever, but I’m
already over my word count. I think Plays is a masterpiece. The less
restrictive theme of the album allows Dixon to showcase his talent
as a guitarist, lyricist and composer, and the quality of the output
justifies his somewhat pretentious approach to his craft.
"Vancouver native Andy Dixon who is the brain behind Secret Mommy
knows a thing or two about non-conformity. He documented the sound
of the tropics on "Hawaii 5.0". Then, with "Very Rec",
he made a stab to comment on recreational areas in his neighborhood.
This time around, Andy's focus is to concentrate on his talent as
a songwriter and storyteller. In bringing lots of his friends together
into the studio, Andy had just one stipulation which was that no instrument
could be electrified. Idea was to create the most "anti-electronic
electronic album" ever, which was full of real, homey sounds.
Much of the music on "Plays" has a tendency to fall into
the cut'n'paste category as rich woodwinds swirl with Andy's twangy
guitar picking which is then smothered with wild percussion and strangely
appealing vocals. One of the highlights on the record is the appeasing,
windy violin playing from Jesse Zubot. The way it's mixed on top of
the jarring cut'n'paste routine of the songs makes it the glue of
the whole bit. Despairing effects on the record make it akin to a
walk in a long buffet line. You start any song off with an element
- jarring guitar lines, follow that up with some crashing cymbals,
walk through a soup of effectively spliced vocals and end up with
some mash-up fireworks for dessert. How many times have you heard
ukulele used in an electronic pop song? "Grand About the Mouth"
does just that to excellent effect. One of the best improvising passages
[if you can call it that - improvising was done afterwards in the
studio] ends up on "Up on Mt. Okay". As Shane Krause blows
some wild baritone, Merida Anderson provides some squeaky vocalizing,
while Lee Hutzulak doubles up on acoustic guitar along with Dixon.
Studio improvisation or cut'n'paste mayhem. Who cares when it tastes
so damn good!"
""...this is fresh,
ingenious music that deserves to be heard by all... plays is a flowing,
morphing record that denies pigeonholing and deserves your attention."
"Andy Dixon is an artist
who garners critical acclaim, but his name recognition is neigh. This
could change with Plays. If you already know Secret Mommy, you know
only one half of this dogmatically DIY musical talent. Before the
term ‘glitch’ was associated with anything other than
a mistake, Dixon’s sonic palette was non-laptop and punk. Plays
amasses a legion of Vancouver musicians and collaborators, some of
which Dixon most certainly got to know from his time spent in the
now defunct groups d.b.s. and The Red Light Sting. The melding of
the two Dixons is what makes Plays a breakthrough for this 20-something.
Dixon’s grafting of “real” instruments like viola
and saxophone to field recording and vocals using “un-real”
software comes off like a Halifax kitchen party recorded to tape,
fed through a shredder, and re-assembled. Organically approved and
- Ion Magazine
"In a genre that sometimes
borders on masturbatory and juvenile, Secret Mommy has crafted the
most beautiful, organic glitch-pop record ever made. Straying far
from the hyperactive twitching blips that dominate laptop music, Plays
leans towards a more textured aural landscape; More Tim Hecker and
less Dat Politics. Warm and rich, Plays is made entirely from sounds
recorded by studio jams from Secret Mommy's group of friends, whom
are mostly musicians in their own right...
Plays is a delicate cut-and-paste masterpiece, at times rollicking
with free-jazz vigor, at others a fragile Caribou make Krautrock fuelled
techno from real instruments, Secret Mommy's compositions take seemingly
incongruous recorded sounds and re-sew them into a dense sonic fabric,
the compositions take form after the music is recorded...
...The best album of 2007"
- Beyond Robson
Andy Dixon is no newcomer
to the electro-noise game. Not only has homeboy put out a series of
theme-oriented field recordings (albums comprised of the sound of
pulling teeth, public recreational areas, tropical sounds), but now
he's created a full-length without electrified instruments. Plays
is a choppy, cut-and-paste long-player that pays no dues to amps or
drum machines–it's one man on a lush, ambitious attempt to escape.
- The XLR8R Office Top Ten
Album Picks, Dec 11
For those unfamiliar with
the work of SECRET MOMMY, only one thing can be recommended; expect
signs of life to come through your speakers. And I mean literally.
Mastermind Andy Dixon has in the past crafted entire albums from the
natural sounds of tropical areas (Hawaii 5.0) and the noises from
public recreational centers (Very Rec). With his latest he’s
assembled a plethora of like-minded musicians (violinist Jesse Zubot,
Todd Mac Donald, Tyr Jami, and Paul Patko of labelmates THE WINKS,
Shane Krause of THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON”T THEY? among many others)
and has once again produced a very lively patchy work of music. Plays
at times comes off as the spastic work of an ADD-riddled DJ (“Kool
Aid River”), and at others songs slowly take shape as the organic
sounds of man manipulated objects come to fruition, as is the case
of “Trust Me, Cub”, where the use of balloons, plastic
and bubble wrap, tinfoil, elastic bands, brushes, etc are taken out
of its inherent purpose to finally create sonic art
- Deaf Sparrow