Secret Flight by Secret Flight

Release date: May 26, 2023
Label: Self-Released

Secret Flight is the synth based solo project of Sonia Tses. Meshing experimental pop tones with classical influences and choral vocals she creates a light, hushed atmosphere in which to sift through some dark themes. 

Secret Flight is her second album, the previous one, 2018’s My Forever Mirage, was a largely instrumental set weaving bright and familiar synth textures into pleasing arrangements, all while neatly avoiding getting too retro about it. Tses now regards those moves as “semi ironic” and considers this new record much closer to her original intentions for the project. You might initially prefer the safety of her debut, it’s warmer, easier, asks far fewer difficult questions, but you know that this new one is more worthwhile. More honest, more singular, more rewarding.    

The sound world of Secret Flight has more light and shade, more nuance is revealed the closer you listen. The tracks feel clean and sparse but contain surprising twists and sly bursts of discord handled with the lightest touch. It eases you in with the soft synth cloud of ‘Everything Breathes Of You, Even Now’ and the deceptively minimal ‘Happiness and Fulfilment’ so that when rhythmic elements make an appearance halfway through ‘A Prism’ they carry surprising force dividing the song in two. The first part is a choral meditation but in the second the vocal becomes wordless, carried above the pulse of the music.   

An affect of the mannered structure of choral vocals is to elide the lyrical content into pure sound rather than drawing out emotions. It hovers above us, elevated spirit, free of mortal worry. It inescapably feeds the sense of being in a church or cathedral, a tall, still, reverent space. Lyrically Secret Flight is not especially upbeat, there’s death and trauma and fear but sonically it remains in the light. ‘A Prism’ features what may be the record’s key line “grief isn’t a prison dark as night, grief is a prism which refracts the light”.

‘Humans of these Beasts’ seems to concern a civilising impulse, the drama of the arrangement and lyric has a show tune soliloquy aspect but fortunately none of the emotionally manipulative cliché. It also knocks aside any misplaced sense of the album having a coherent narrative. Although there is a lot of death. Another one opens ‘On the Day’ a drifting lament of dissembled electro pop arpeggios that I think contains a line about hating your friends and concludes “I’m changed, deranged”.

On ‘The Wound’ a single line becomes an incantation, looping and warping serenely, expanding with each iteration “The wound never closes”. What wound? The pain of life, the fear of death, the wounds of Christ? It’s like an ecclesiastical trauma dump but the arrangement displays a reserve. More than any of the other tracks you sense what it might sound like voiced by a full choir. Tses never does this, using multi tracked vocals very sparingly, keeping a more fragile quality. As with the music she maximises minimal elements giving the tracks a very open feel, small but spacious.    

The mix of electronica with choral and classical elements can sometimes have the feel of a soundtrack for a modern dance or theatre piece and the vocal style may not be for everyone but the unique combination of elements and unpredictability of the arrangements is a real strength. I can’t help but feel a more fully realised synthesis of these ideas lies ahead. Lyrically and sonically innocence and trauma dance together on these songs, attempting a resolution of sorts. The tension between the calm order of the vocals and the pop drive of the tunes fully blooms on final track ‘To Lose’ eventually rushing forward on the chant “The pain it never ends”.


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