Here We Go Magic is a band I've been listening to for the past few weeks but for some reason have been avoiding posting about. Partly, I think that's because I wasn't sure whether they were just another DIY indie pop group bound for the south by southwest paper shredder, or whether their early hyped track "Tunnelvision" was the only good thing going for them. Admittedly, when I heard that they were opening for Department of Eagles, I thought a bit differently about them - Dept. of Eagles and Grizzly Bear being certainly one of the most imaginative, compositionally and orchestrally sensitive bands in indie rock right now, and took a closer listen to the rest of their self titled album out on Western Vinyl. Tunnelvision is such an effervescent track, but I had a few issues with the low fi production. Don't get me wrong, going low fi works to several advantages. For starters, the way to succeed in low fi is to have your musicianship match the recording quality, so it's ok, if not preferable, to play like shit on a low fi recording. It fits the whole ethos of the thing. Secondly, low fi has a kind of empathetic power to it by being warm, crackly, of a different era. It's like a mangy dog, you feel sort of bad for it, you wonder where it came from, and how it got that way. Likewise, a low fi recording calls attention to its creation, thereby humanizing the dudes who recorded it, and by extension the music itself. But in this case, the production on "Tunelvision" is so aggressively compressed and overdriven that it loses a lot of the warmth and approachability that it was trying for. It becomes almost annoying. Can you imagine the track with the same production style as Grizzly Bear? Where the sense of DIY is still present but the bass is rich, the instruments are perfectly spatialized, and the high end isn't so piercing? The real benefit to sounding like you recorded with a four track (whether you did or didn't, in this case it appears that they did) is that people will assume that you're up and coming, that they've "discovered" you. But what happens after that buzz wears off, then you're stuck with some really great songs that sound like shit and that's now your signature aesthetic. You can always go hi-fi, but what about the backlash from low-fi fans, the label's desire for continuity, not to mention whether your low-fi work was hiding deficiencies in your musicianship.
Thankfully, Here We Go Magic's has enough musical interest that the problems in production are largely overshadowed. The track "Fangela" is a beautiful song, with a real careful sense of harmonic and instrumental color. The whole song is framed around a repetitive beat/bass structure. But the details are shifting all around it. For example, the synth arpeggios that come in in the coda really open the song up to the heavens. The clap/wood block rhythmic hook that mimics the chorus "Fan-ge-LA!" is actually the catchiest part of the song, by virtue of being a percussive element that turns so refreshingly melodic, partially because it's in direct response to the melody itself and also because it just pops. The constant 16th note zither line (or is it a mandolin?) that snakes round every chord change and propels the whole rhythm section, also gives the song a welcome scent of evil. Elsewhere, the album is less immediately fulfilling in terms of full tracks, but there are superbly interesting textures and colors to appreciate. From the rubbery guitar lick in Ahab that is somewhat undercut by a pretty lackluster chanted vocal harmony that sounds like a bad Pink Floyd b-side. A similar problem pervades the track "I Just Want to See You Underwater" where the underwater part is clear and vividly drawn in the swirling guitar cross patterns, but once the beat gets going its sounds less like a river than a clogged up brook, and the melody fits in as just another piece of the larger groove. This isn't true of "Tunnelvision" or "Fangela", where the melody isn't burried but soars above the rest of the accumulated braid. I've heard some strange comparisons online but to me, this record owes everything to Paul Simon Rhythm of the Saints. No where is this more true than on "Only Pieces", which is not only the best produced track on the album, it's also my favorite. I wish it was 3 or 4 minutes longer and had a B section, but hey, the name of the game these days isn't song writing but groove making. Wish we all could agree to do both.

Only Pieces
I Just Want to See You Underwater

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