Review : Magic Kids - Memphis
PitchforkSomething to consider when considering Magic Kids: the SuperBall, the enduring children's toy which served as a muse to this group's equally bouncy single of the same name, was invented by Norman H. Stingley in 1965. The Beach Boys dropped Pet Sounds in May of 1966. Wham-O sold over six million SuperBalls by December of that year, and Pet Sounds will forever remain, in these halls and elsewhere, a Really Big Deal. Both are American pop touchstones in their own right, exactly the kind of iconic, immediate imagery (see also: "Summer" and "Candy") and sounds with which the Memphis outfit has been playing since they formed in early 2009. But as much as Magic Kids lean on Brian Wilson and Phil Spector for sonic cues-- they like shine, smooth textures, and cinematic transitions-- their music is aims to stir up the feelings you felt the first time you kissed, crushed, and played games, the first time you heard "God Only Knows".
Memphis, their debut LP, bottles all of that up with remarkable skill, but often to disappointing effect. Its many flourishes are much more satisfying than its songs, each dissolving on contact no matter how much buoyancy or sugar they boast for stretches. Opener "Phone Song" is a great, two-minute example. Strings quake. Guitars gleam. The horns are exactly where they should be, and over a mattress of synth, frontman Bennett Foster places himself next to a phone waiting for a girl to call. We're much more familiar with that image than we are with Foster, and as instantly accessible as the blueprint is, Foster doesn't make the formula his own. Just as he does in the sprint of "Superball" or the schooner romance "Sailin'", he doesn't throw his personality or memory into the fray, choosing to work instead with childhood cut outs. Think for a second on Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, who has made listeners either swoon or yawn when belting almost exclusively about boys and heartache. Cosentino, whether you think it's lazy or hilarious, has also made enough use of weed and cat and beach references to lend her pastiche its own spin, to create her own world within her music....full text
PopmattersIt’s a given that making a strong first impression is one of the most important objectives for any debut album, but how to do so can be a tricky and complicated proposition. While any young act wants to do something that can help it to stand out, that hook can also pigeonhole a band long after it has outgrown its awkward early stages. For Magic Kids, their thrilling retro-pop revisionism on Memphis is what’ll get them noticed in the here-and-now, even if it could burden them later: Though many ‘60s-leaning bands claim the Beach Boys’ orchestral pop experimentation as an influence, few take that source of inspiration and run with it like Magic Kids do, considering the full complement of bounding keyboards, resounding tympanis, swelling strings, and smooth falsettos that they put to good use on their summery-themed songs.
But there’s more to Memphis, named after the quintet’s hometown, than a redux of Pet Sounds, as if that were possible. The reason why Magic Kids might have some staying power is that they pack Memphis full of singles with their own unique spirit and energy that wouldn’t shine through if they were only imitating what came before them. Part and parcel of Magic Kids’ precocious musicianship is their knack for creating stick-in-your-head songs that get in there in less than three minutes flat, but stay around much longer. The band’s post-teen symphonies are so rich and layered that they seem to stretch time, seeming complete and fully developed despite their short-and-sweet dynamics. In fact, there’s such an embarrassment of riches that two of the catchier numbers—the aptly titled “Candy” and “Little Red Radio”—aren’t even official singles.
Released on an earlier seven-inch, “Hey Boy” makes the biggest splash, with give-and-take vocals in a back-and-forth between what sounds like an admonishing all-girl choir—“Hey boy, where’s your girlfriend? / She needs your attention,” it begins—and lead singer Bennett Foster that’s timeless in a puppy-love romance kind of way. As head-bobbing and finger-snapping as it is, “Hey Boy” features a lush instrumental arrangement that accompanies Foster’s soaring delivery, with so many sparkling synths, honking horns, shaken bells all compressed into a track that’s barely longer than two minutes. The backing singers add another level to “Hey Boy” both in form and content, driving the song as they take the fore to plant seeds of doubt in Bennett’s guileless affections: “Is she telling lies?,” they ask, overwhelming the main vocal line, on which Bennett can only muster a muted, “No, no, she wouldn’t do that.” It’s a nifty trick for a band that’s relatively green to pull off a piece that has so many facets to it and can appeal to listeners in different ways, whether as a quick-and-easy would-be hit or an expertly crafted pop composition....full text
MusicomhA few years ago, it suddenly became fashionable for bands to draw influence from the West Coast sounds of '70s America. There was The Thrills, the Irish band seemingly convinced they actually came from Big Sur. You'll remember Orson, no matter how much you try to forget them now. And then there was The Feeling, of course - whose unabashed worship of all things cheese finally convinced us that maybe we should stop all this silliness and never speak of it again.
Magic Kids, a five-piece from Memphis, Tennessee (hence the album name), fall firmly into this MOR-influenced group. They're so obsessed with The Beach Boys that it's a surprise to find they've not all changed their name to Wilson or Love and their debut album doesn't come with a free surfboard.
For, here's the rub - Magic Kids aren't interested in the Beach Boys of Pet Sounds, Smile and the weirder, more experimental era. You know, the good stuff? No, Magic Kids are seemingly hell-bent on re-creating that early '60s vibe where all your troubles could be extinguished by jumping in a Little Deuce Coupe and driving down to the beach to impress the local girls.
Which, to be honest, has become kind of wearying by 2010. Every track here is so relentlessly upbeat and full of beans, it's like being strapped into a dental chair and force-fed a gallon of Sunny Delight. Followed by a Krispy Kreme doughnut or three.
It's not that Memphis is a bad album - indeed, for a debut, it's remarkably accomplished. Strings swell and sway, the harmonies are blissful and it's so well-produced that sometimes you think that Phil Spector's still getting jobs from his jail cell.
Yet it's also overtly twee and cloying - sometimes unbearably so. Superball is just a horrible, saccharine coated gloop of orchestral pop that's impossible to listen to without feeling slightly ill. On a similar note, Good To Be only lasts less than two minutes, but to say that its cutesy delivery of "it's so good to be with you, I think we love each other under the covers" sets the teeth on edge a bit would be an understatement....full text
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