Album Review: No Good With Secrets – ‘Another Side’

Posted: by The Editor

It’s fitting that arguably the best song on No Good With Secrets’ fantastic Another Side is titled “Sentimental Things,” as the notion of sentimentality seems to be a connecting thread on the record. In the lyrics that recall minute details and conjure the same emotional responses of specific memories, the sentimentality is referred to as “dumb,” as the items left behind by an ex that “shouldn’t mean a goddamn thing” nonetheless makes Madison James—the musician behind No Good With Secrets—feel the same things they felt when they were sixteen.

Another Side has a sentimental feel on the musical side as well, with James dipping into various styles within the broad spectrums of pop, rock, and punk. This range stood out on last year’s In Stereo, as well, which I described at the time as “a perfect blend of gritty ragers, hooky power pop, and folk-punk shoutalongs.” The same is true for Another Side, but James stretches things a bit more here, leaning into each idea more completely with tambourines and backup vocals adding to the poppier moments and ghostly piano hanging behind the more vulnerable instances. 

The record starts on the punkier side of things with the jittery “Apartment” bringing up anxious, claustrophobic memories of visiting someone in a new city for the first time. A quick one-minute rager, it’s followed by the poppier “Turn Back Over”—a driving song that really feels like it could motivate your hungover ass to get through a few miles of open highway as James laments “traffic doesn’t feel the same when you aren’t on the other side.” It’s the seaside breeze of “Waited Too Long” that really stands out on the first side of the record, though. With its handclaps, “ooh ooh” backup vocals, and almost reggae keyboard pattern, it’s probably the most “out of place” song on here stylistically, but that’s also what makes it work so well.

Along with “Coaster” on the back half of the record, the heaviest No Good With Secrets gets on Another Side is the rampaging “In Through The Sunroom.” Even though the lyrics mention needing more time to breathe, the song refuses to offer any of that time to you, as James recalls “a whole year spent on awful things” before spitting out “we’re better off alone.” “Out of My Life” starts so abruptly after the ripping guitar solo in “In Through The Sunroom”—provided by Ross Lane—that it almost feels like the second movement of the same song. Like “Waited Too Long,” “Out of My Life” sticks out stylistically, but on the more somber end of the spectrum. It’s not out of the realm of what you’d expect from No Good With Secrets, though, as it feels like a more patient take on “A Nicer Boy” off In Stereo. Stuck in between the rager “In Through The Sunroom” and the acoustic “Missed Calls,” “Out of My Life” functions as the record’s linchpin, actually offering the moment to breathe mentioned in the previous track before blasting off the record’s second half.

Like with In Stereo, it’s the second half of Another Side where James stashes some of their best tunes. It was the run of “Whatever You Want,” “In The Morning,” and “See You Clearly” that really pushed In Stereo to another level, and James uses a similar mix of poppy ragers and saccharine acoustic tunes to take Another Side out on a high. 

The aforementioned acoustic “Missed Calls” and heavier “Coaster” reflect that mix of sonic ideas, but it’s the infectiously catchy middle ground of “Sentimental Things” that truly stands out here. While not exactly the pop-punk of the early 2000s, it’s a poppy punk track that evokes the same feelings of the music and videos of that era. Anyone of an age to remember watching MTV for hours and seeing videos like Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” or Alien Ant Farm’s “Smooth Criminal” dozens upon dozens of times could probably chop up a group of those old clips to make a video that perfectly fits “Sentimental Things.” The “haircuts in their driveway line” has an obvious visual cue in the “Fat Lip” video, but the image of pulling up to a party and “sipping on whatever there’s a case of” also brings up the same group’s “Makes No Difference” house party video (or any of the countless pop-punk house party videos from the era). 

Another Side closes with James at a slower tempo, their most laid bare on the record. While probably the only tune that could be called a ballad here, “Sunday” no less builds in intensity, with a haunting piano bubbling underneath James’ vocals and acoustic. Lyrically, the tune comes back to the idea of sentimentality as James admits “every sign on the interstate will just remind me of you,” eventually dispensing with all instrumentation for the final pass of “your smile reminds me that Sunday’s still so far away.” It’s decisions like that one that raise Another Side above other records that delve into similar nostalgia in both lyrics and musical styles, showing James’ skill not only in writing songs, but also in constructing them in a way that hit immediately while still demanding repeat listens.

Another Side is out everywhere today with cassettes and CDs available through No Good With Secrets’ Bandcamp page (no, not that one).

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.