Secret Republic explores the merits of disarming ourselves as lovers, individuals, and as artists.
Love can leave us feeling both insulated and frightfully exposed. The act of giving so much of ourselves over to someone else is thrilling, but we do so knowing that part of us now hangs frail and tenuous between two bodies, open to the air, vulnerable to life-affirming highs and crushing lows. Once we’ve succumbed, it doesn’t take much to awaken a storm of volatile emotions inside the minds of lovers.
Ian Daniel Kehoe’s wonderful new record, Secret Republic, explores the wide-ranging effects of love’s singular pull on the psyche. It delves into love’s highs as well as its lows, all the while pondering, and ultimately celebrating its place in this strange world. Kehoe lays himself at the altar of love, even though the results are not always rosy — a sense of vulnerability underpins much of this record. That said, accompanying that vulnerability is a sense of self-assurance, exploration, and euphoric passion. Secret Republic outlines the numerous benefits of putting ourselves out there as lovers, as individuals, and as artists. Once love has disarmed us, we become more attuned to beauty, deeper truths, and the value of self-expression.
Ever the prolific musician, Kehoe has had his hands in many projects over the years. He’s served as a bassist and a songwriter in Attack in Black, made music under the moniker Marine Dreams, and toured with such artists as The Weather Station and Andy Shauf. This time around, though, Kehoe comes out from behind the pseudonyms and the music of others with an album full of deeply personal, searching pop songs. Secret Republic is an efficient collection of textured synths, muted drum patterns, and graceful melodies. As producer, songwriter, and the lone musician, Kehoe uses these minimal elements to maximum effect. This is grandiose pop music that sounds like it could have been produced in a bedroom (or more accurately, a home studio). This tension between grandiosity and intimacy is what gives these songs their unique charm.
Lyrically, the album runs the emotional gamut. Songs like “It’s Hard (Livin Without You Girl) — a glorious mashup of Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen, George Michael, and the aching melodrama of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score — and “One Picture” exude the type of sadness, vulnerability, and longing that only an absent lover can conjure. Conversely, “Fate Gets Closer” (a sensual slow-burner that features the album’s most intoxicating synth flourishes) and “Secret Republic” are euphoric celebrations of freedom, self-expression, and the kind of love that seems too good to be true. Though it draws from 80s-era synth-pop, Secret Republic never sounds derivative or overly bombastic. It also manages to be tender without ever succumbing to cheesiness.
Kehoe is always mindful of using his Romantic motifs to explore big, pressing questions. He frames Secret Republic‘s content using the stunning opener “Prizes Through the Mazes of Jungle”, which essentially asks: In a life that is finite, what is it that’s ultimately worth pursuing? From the very beginning, we are culturally conditioned to constantly strive, push, scratch, and claw our way towards something. This something then blossoms and branches off into countless seemingly worthy pursuits: wealth, pleasure, happiness, promotions, creature comforts, security, adulation, new cars, nice clothes, a better body, vacations, retirement, and on, and on, and on. How are we supposed to navigate through a world that often gives these pursuits equal weight or compels us to prioritize the wrong thing? What prizes are truly worth the struggle when we finally face our mortality? There are no definitive answers, but for Kehoe, the most plausible ones seem to be ideas he constantly comes back to on this record: love, beauty, and honesty.
At the end of our days, if we can say that we fought as best as we could to stay true to ourselves, and that we remained open to the entire spectrum of love’s promises and pitfalls, then all of this will probably seem worth it.