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.
Tag: here we go magic
When Luke Temple first started to work on this new project he called Here We Go Magic, it was just him alone in a recording studio, writing and crafting the songs which eventually came together to form last year’s self-titled debut. The sound, given that Temple was by himself with only a looping pedal for a friend, was decidedly lo-fi and very folk-pop with a world beat/noise pop edge to it. Don’t you dare call that a bad thing, because when it results in songs as good as “Fangela” and “Tunnelvision”, you come to acknowledge Temple as the smart songwriter that he truly is. Well, in order to take these songs on tour and perform them with any sort of reasonable accuracy, Temple brought four of his friends on board, and they’ve stuck around to the point where they’re now full-fledged members of the band and contributing their collective skills towards a new Here We Go Magic album. That new album is titled “Pigeons” and it’s available for you to pick up starting this week.
Despite signing to Secretly Canadian and most likely having a bigger recording budget, the first noticeable thing about “Pigeons” is how well it maintains the cheaper, lo-fi vibe the debut had. None of these songs are too smooth or overproduced, and given the style they’re working in, that’s a good thing. It’d be untrue to the established spirit and vibe of the songs to make them come through with crystal clarity. But considering that Here We Go Magic is now a five-piece band, there is a marked increase in the overall fullness of sound, along with a stylistic shift to accomodate for that. With its odd combination of drum machine, dominating bass and messy keyboards, “Hibernation” is something of an odd choice as the opening track, but it works in the weirdest and best way possible. Where this beefed up version of the band really gets going though is on first single “Collector”, which a beautifully composed piece of guitar pop that’s light as air and has the great potential to stick in your head for days on end. “Casual”‘s use of synths and acoustic guitar makes for surprisingly effective balladry, primarily invoking the very relaxed vibe of its title. With its decidedly psychedelic vibe replete with a small backing choir, portions of “Surprise” are working from the book of Pink Floyd, and there’s a lot the song gets right. It does feel like there’s something just barely missing, but the song is still about as effective as it needs to be. “Bottom Feeder” attempts to move in an alt-country direction, and Temple’s vocals anchor it down as he attempts his best Neil Young. The thing about it is that for an album that’s been highly interesting up until that point, this straightforward, Plain Jane track has the variety but not creativity this record needs. By looping a guitar and bass line and singing over it, “Moon” returns to the psychedelia established two tracks earlier, and makes you wonder exactly why it wasn’t sandwiched next to “Surprise” rather than separated by the clunky and unimportant “Bottom Feeder”. Other than that, the bouncy “Old World United” boasts some strong keyboard work, and “F.F.A.P.” proves that Temple can give an emotionally arresting vocal performance in the quiet spaces between the prog-riddled guitars. For the freak folk inside all of us, the record’s last two tracks “Vegetable or Native” and “Herbie I Love You, Now I Know” are both very percussion-heavy and make use of plenty of non-drum instruments to keep the beat. It seems a little odd to end your album on an instrumental after everything else has had lyrics, but given how well the last couple songs blend with one another, you could just regard “Herbie…” as an extension of the track before it.
Perhaps surprisingly, “Pigeons” feels less like a step forwards for Here We Go Magic and more like a re-evaluation of what was already there. There is certainly a constant between the self-titled debut and the new album with the psychedelic pop bent, but given the much fuller and occasionally richer sound that the additional members now bring to the fold, it sounds almost like the work of an entirely different band. It’s enough to make you wonder how the performance of a sparse old song like “Fangela” has changed now that there are more people to play around with it. The best decision you can probably make is to view “Pigeons” as the start of something brand new for Here We Go Magic. Whereas they were once a caterpillar, they’ve now evolved into a butterfly. Considering this could be the album – and “Collector” could be the song – that catapults this band into indie stardom, such a metaphor is that much more apt. Viewing “Pigeons” completely on its own and without any history involved, it is a generally solid and exciting record. There are a couple small missteps, adding some flaws to an otherwise pristine shine, but the majority of the album works like gangbusters. Pick up a copy if it sounds like your sort of thing.