3rd Secret – 3rd Secret


The prospect of members of Soundgarden and Nirvana collaborating on an album is like Al Pacino and Robert Di Niro cast in the same film. Just as the two legendary actors appeared together in Heat, so Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron join Krist Novoselic for a supergroup including hardcore icon, Jon Dupree of Void. But just like Heat, the Val Kilmer scene-stealer is vocalist Jillian Raye, who is the true star of this music. Those hoping for a greasy piece of noise-rock with punk ethics and metal dynamics will be disappointed by 3rd Secret’s debut record, but you weren’t expecting that anyway, were you?

In fact, you’ll need to erase the superstar cast of musicians from your mind to enjoy this music. The grunge baggage helps not one bit if you’re to attune yourself to the true beauty of 3rd Secret’s art. The expressive folk resonance of ‘Rhythm of the Ride’ sparkles like a Ry Cooder guitar composition with gorgeous vocals and a spine-chilling octave change for the chorus. Is there anything more spellbinding than a female vocal that alternates between a contralto and mezzo-soprano range with such command and presence? Jillian Raye lights up this song like the bioluminescence of a glow worm in a humid forest.

Let’s be clear: this is album is not folk music for the campfire – this is folk music for Lollapalooza. And Thyail shows no reluctance to dust down the electric guitar when needed. ‘I Choose Me’ is classic Soundgarden with an art-school interpretation of Black Sabbath’s enduring pentatonic riffs. Here, Raye’s mystical voice graces it with the same charisma as Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, and Novoselic grinds harder with his plectrum as if reliving the days of In Utero. It’s a shame 3rd Secret give us only one glimpse of this glory, but that’s because Thayil and Cameron understand the talents of their singer and know not to waste her voice or that of co-vocalist, Jennifer Johnson. Listen to the uplifting sparkle of ‘Last Day of August’ and the way Raye and Johnson follow the descending chord progression of the chorus with the line, “My last day in the universe/ I was taken by surprise/ And I don’t even know the reason why it happened.” Raye’s introspection on ‘Dead Sea’ is the song you require to take a step back from your busy day. We all need to return to the fundamentals of life and notice the things that should not have eluded us, and this breath-taking cascade of glittering acoustic arpeggios will do just that. “Out in the desert/ Under the palm trees/ I feel your gaze/ Swimming in a dead sea,’ intones Raye, like a novelist penning a love letter to a mystical force of nature.

Of course, Raye and Novoselic play together in the weird accordion-led rock group, Giants in the Trees, so it’s no surprise that this creeps into the music of 3rd Secret on ‘Right Stuff’. The fairground vibe and playful chorus work wonders in conjunction with the rich wordplay: “It’s the way that you feel inside/ I give you a river/ But it’s all run dry/ Like an ocean looking for a tide.” You could even have PJ Harvey or Suzanne Vega (remember her?) on the microphone for the effulgent guitar shapes of ‘Winter Solstice’. Listen how Raye quivers through her scale-runs like a Nordic folk singer imagining a harmonious communion with the soil of her land. Wow!

Thayil is by no means a bit-part player on this record. He always had the most colourful texture of the great grunge guitarists as evidenced in ‘Black Hole Sun’ and the intro to ‘Loud Love’, yet here he demonstrates the technical prowess of his intricate acoustic skills. Your only fear is that he might spoil it with a haphazard attention to the type of dad rock riffs that make Pearl Jam such an underwhelming band these days. ‘Lies Fade Away’ would fall into this embarrassing paradigm if not for Raye’s maudlin chorus, and ‘Somewhere in Time’ comes close to middle-of-the-road. The latter would qualify as anachronistic ‘boomer’ rock with a male vocalist powering these songs, which make Raye and Johnson’s presence even more important to save us from this fate.

It may not be a grunge album, but 3rd Secret’s debut is a magnificent medley of radiant folk that conjures the aroma of pine springs and refreshing autumn drizzle as much as the beauty of a later summer breeze. Jillian Raye is not the headline name, but she’s the undoubted star of this ensemble cast. 

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 09/04/2022

Record Label: Self Released

Standout tracks: I Choose Me, Winter Solstice, Dead Sea

Suggested Further Listening: Dinosaur Jr – Green Mind (1991), Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1987), Emma Ruth Rundle – Some Heavy Ocean (2014)