The progression of Here We Go Magic over the course of their now three albums has been nothing short of fascinating. Luke Temple started the project like many others, with some recording equipment in his bedroom. The band’s 2009 self-titled album resulted directly from those sessions, a supremely lo-fi yet strikingly catchy examination of the freak folk and psychedelic genres. If songs like “Fangela” and “Tunnelvision” didn’t get stuck in your head after a couple spins, there was something wrong with you. Things progressed as you might expect – attracting all sorts of attention, Temple expanded the band out into a full-fledged five piece, though the second HWGM record Pigeons was recorded in a house with only slightly better equipment. The fidelity remained relatively the same as the first album, even as the arrangements were a lot more complicated and busy. The band’s sound changed somewhat too, abandoning the white noise instrumentals and most of the African polyrhythms in favor of something more synth-based and dream pop in nature. Good as that record was, it also made the band seem just a little indecisive about what musical direction they hoped to take for the future. They lacked conviction and a truly unified sound. When you hear the wild mixture of echoing drums that begin HWGM’s third album A Different Ship, there’s a remarkable familiarity to it that raises your spirits for just a minute in the hopes that this might finally be the moment when everything comes together perfectly as part of Temple’s master plan. The initial shock arrives on the second track, once the instrumental intro finishes off. “Hard to Be Close” glides out of its gates with clarity and whimsy that tells you they used an actual studio with an actual producer this time. The dirt and grime of the past two records are gone, and Temple’s vocal sits at the front of the mix. It also feels a lot like puberty arrived since that last full length, as Temple’s voice has dropped a couple octaves from the falsetto he typically uses. Once again this band has gone through more sonic growing pains, still unsettled as to what they want to sound like. They jump genres on a whim and while it’s impressive to hear them reasonably balance everything with some degree of uniformity, you come away with no better idea of where this band is headed than you did at the start of the album. The icy drift of “Alone But Moving” feels like a direct tribute to Radiohead, with Temple breaking out his Thom Yorke-ian falsetto and Nigel Godrich producing it. After delving into some serious yet unremarkable psychedelia for a few tracks, “How Do I Know” suddenly roars to life like it belongs on an entirely different record. The song itself is great and catchy, but it really serves as a red flag by pointing out the flaws with much of the rest of the album. By cleaning up their sound and getting Godrich behind the boards, the curtain behind Here We Go Magic is lifted, and we’re left not with the great and powerful Oz but instead a regular man with a special effects budget. It’d help if there was some semblance of deep emotion or heft to fill in the gaps the lack of instrumentation leave behind, but alas Temple prefers to keep his distance from those things. That leads to something like the sprawling finale “A Different Ship”, which spends most of its 8+ minute running time in some adult contemporary haze that devolves into a largely do-nothing drone. Like so much of the entire record, it feels lost at sea with no real idea where it’s headed. Occasionally land will be spotted and you get a nice spark of fun and inspiration, but it vanishes almost as quickly as it arrives. If this is what it’s like on A Different Ship, perhaps the better idea would be to return to your original one.
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