An unabashedly heart-on-the-sleeve album that, despite its downbeat lyrical content, strides along with an upbeat note and a pep in its step.
Straight out of the gate, the boys of The Magic Gang wear their classic song-writing and musical influences on their sleeve on their eponymous debut album. With an album opener, ‘Oh Saki’ reminiscent of The Beatles (a comparison that crops up again and again), pop-rock sensibilities of bands like The Beach Boys and The Kinks, and alt-pop/rock darlings Weezer all shining through. For a band with such a wealth of material to choose from, with three EPs and various singles having been released in the past - there’s a pleasant amount of new material and old material on the LP. Specifically, those familiar with the band will be pleased to find the songs ‘Alright’, ‘Jasmine’, ‘All This Way’, ‘How Can I Compete’, All That I Want Is You’, and ‘Your Love’ nestled in amongst the new songs.
It’s an unabashedly heart-on-the-sleeve album that, despite almost every song lyrically dealing with a broken relationship or lost love, strides along with an upbeat note and a pep in its step. While it’s great fun to listen to an album that pretty much contains one guitar solo per song, the lyrics at times let them down – especially given how important they are as a foil to the bright, happy-sounding instrumentals. Songs ‘All This Way’ and ‘Jasmine’ rely too heavily on broad, over-arching lyrics that fail to properly ground the emotional content. ‘All This Way’s chorus of “All I really wanna' know/Is how I got all this way on my own” sounds half-heartedly written and is sung similarly. The crunchy guitar peppered throughout the song hold it up to make it a pleasant experience, lyrics notwithstanding, but the potential of the song never sounds fully realised. Some songs seem to stretch themselves a bit too thin, such as ‘Alright’, which probably would have benefitted from being a short but sweet tune that didn’t stretch past two minutes. Other songs feel static, where more could have been done to progress them sonically over the course of their duration. ‘Alright’ is one such track, as is ‘Jasmine’, where the acapella, drums-only chorus seems to have been thrown in to give the track depth and length, but it doesn’t have enough bombast to hold it up. ‘Alright’ is perhaps the stand-out, with Death Cab for Cutie-esque vocals in the intro and chugging Weezer-like guitar (think ‘Say It Ain’t So’) giving the track such promise. It also has such a good video.
The album isn't devoid of interesting lyrics or musical passages. Piano-led ballad, ‘Take Care’, is a less playful and optimistic ‘When I’m 64’, that also invites Weezer comparisons for the guitar sound. Easily in the top three tracks on the album, the guitar and bass work are more subdued, allowing the music to reflect the vocals and lyrics a little more than on other tracks. The lyrical phrasing is brilliant, and it’s a wonderful example of a song that attempts to grapple with the idea of self-care and after-care in the wake of a break-up. Additionally, the track evolves as you listen to it, and when the chorus comes back around each time, the listener is much more receptive to it, anticipating the repetition of a fragment of the last line of the chorus, “know the time that we spent together was good.”
Other standout tracks include ‘How Can I Compete’, and the album closer ‘All That I Want Is You’ - also the oldest of The Magic Gangs tracks which found its way onto the LP. ‘How Can I Compete’ is a beachy little song that invites ALO and Jack Johnson comparisons - such as ‘Staple It Together,’ or ALO’s ‘Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down’). Having the most satisfying guitar sound on the album with piercing, staccato guitar lines and riffs, invites further comparisons to funk-jazz band, Vulfpeck. Despite the lyrics, where the narrator describes the craziness of competing with someone else for their significant other’s love, it’s the most upbeat and fun song on the album. It’s followed by the piano-pounding ‘I’ll Show You’, which will probably be heard at open-mics and auditions for years to come, and the best song on the album, at least lyrically, ‘All That I Want Is You.’
‘All I Want Is You’ shines, with the obtuse and abstract lyrics that are clearly specifically meaningful to the writer. The refrain of “Oh Brian won’t you come out/ Instead you'll swim around” is incredibly catchy. As listeners, we’re given a name and a situation with little explanation for, making it is incredibly evocative. What is Brian “swim[ming] around” in? Is he in a pool and refusing to get out? Is he in his room consumed by his thoughts and confusions? Swimming in his emotions? We don’t know, we don’t get told, and the song is brilliant for that reason.
When it comes down to it, The Magic Gang is a fun album that shows the wide-ranging genre sensibilities, and musical dexterity of the gang. It’s not the most consistently-written album, with tracks that stand out far above others, but it’s never offensive or straight-up bad. Tracing the influences on the tracks can be rewarding when the lyrics aren’t grabbing your attention, but at times they’ll come out with gems like “You’ll be leaving such a hole in the city when, darling, we’re through”. It’s not an astounding debut, and it largely speaks to the strength of their older tracks, but The Magic Gang is still definitely worth a listen and shows the band has potential in spades.