Review : Magic Trick - Rulers of the Night
PitchforkIf you're looking for evidence of Tim Cohen's transition from psych-rock everyman to honest-to-God balladeer, the signs have always been there. Almost all the songs he's written for the Fresh & Onlys are open-hearted, his sensitive songwriting and sincere vocal delivery augmenting the band's loud, often hard-charging sound. Last year's full-length Magic Trick and the Bad Blood EP found him inching toward a slower, softer approach; a few of those standouts were more likely to inspire a Conway Twitty comparison than anything related to the 13th Floor Elevators. Deciding to strip his name from the banner of his solo work, he's now rechristened himself Magic Trick, after his 2011 album of the same name. But, upgraded moniker aside, is Ruler of the Night any better than-- or really, any different from-- the work he's released under his own name?
The answer is mostly yes, though there are a few signposts pointing to his songwriting past. "Sunny" sounds like the Fresh & Onlys played on a shuffleboard deck, Cohen trading his Fender Stratocaster for an acoustic guitar and wild sparks shooting from Kelley Stoltz band member James Kim's fretboard for the background vocals of Alicia Vanden Heuvel (also of Aislers Set) and Noell Cahill. If the more downcast "Weird Memory" had been written by his other group, it's likely the guitars would've been much louder. And closer "Say Your Name" is comparable to the Fresh & Onlys' "I'm a Thief", the final song on their 2010 collection Play It Strange. It isn't quite as climactic as the older track, but it's still a satisfying way to end a record....full text
DustedmagazineFor a guy who spent his formative years listening exclusively to hip hop, Tim Cohen has become a surprising force in pop. Magic Trick is a busman’s holiday from the meatier, guitar-driven Fresh & Onlys, an ephemeral solo project turned semi-solid with the addition of a full-time band. More private, less celebratory than his main gig, with Magic Trick, Cohen finds space for unhurried, introspective balladry and billowy girl harmonies, the yin to Fresh & Onlys’ yang.
A strong female presence is what mainly distinguishes Magic Trick from Cohen’s other projects (Fresh & Onlys, his first solo recording and Black Fiction). Noelle Cahill (Sandwitches) and Alicia Van Heuvel (Aislers Set, Ladybug Transistor, Mystic Chords of Memory) are in the band, murmuring pretty “oohs” and “aahs” in the spaces between Cohen’s wobbly, echo-laced verses. Their bright, soprano backdrop soothes and smoothes the edges of these songs, melding with other trebly sounds so that even darker sentiments are swathed in serenity. “Torture,” the album’s best song, wafts past on a blossom-scented breeze, the sexual longing implied by its title offset by glistening, primary colored textures of synthesizer and xylophone.
Ruler of the Night augments live drumming (that’s James Kim, who has also played with Kelley Stoltz) with programmed beats in a few songs, a subtle reminder of Cohen’s first love. There’s nothing as blatantly (and wonderfully) beat-driven as Black Fiction’s “I Spread the Disease,” but “Invisible at Midnight” rides a side-slipping, multi-toned machine beat through pastoral folk-pop landscapes, a bit of shiny modernity glinting through its 1960s surface.
Subtle differences aside, Magic Trick delivers the same kind of trippy, guitar-jangling, tambourine-shaking pop as Fresh & Onlys, only quieter. “Sunny” is virtually indistinguishable from the other band’s output, which is to say, it’s a bright, positive melody cross-hatched with minor-key shadows, a good time already slipping away in wistful nostalgia....full text
AustintownhallYou never really know what you’re going to get with a Tim Cohen listening experience; he’s a man of many faces, wearing various hats in Fresh and Onlys, Tim Cohen and now Magic Trick. After the first few listens to Ruler of the Night (Hardly Art), you can clearly see that he’s put aside that psych-pop hat, just for a moment, crafting something truly remarkable that won’t leave your record player for days or even weeks.
If “Ruler of the Night” is going to be your starting point, it’s the place that first establishes a different approach for Cohen and Magic Trick, now that the band has been solidified. You’ll find lightly strummed guitar and an extremely warm backing vocal; the careful construction of the song demonstrates how far Tim is willing to go on this outing. Immediately following is “Torture,” which just might have the longevity to be one of my tracks of the year. You can see the lineage of this track, and possible connection, to Fresh and Onlys, but the melodic harmonies backing your frontman here see him pushing that sound; he even takes a stab at a soaring vocal himself, to much success.
Ruler of the Night will probably be remembered most for the variance in songwriting that Magic Trick utilizes on the effort. ”Sunny” sounds like a San Francisco group taking a stab at writing a Magnetic Fields song, but perhaps that’s just the guitar sound, or the backing vocals. The mood of the song resonates with the title, but it’s juxtaposition to the dark ballad “Next to Nothing” gives you reason to make sure your listening experience revolves around the completed record. While similarities exist overall, each song creates its own bit of character, all dependent upon the accompaniment of the rest of the group.
“Same People” seemingly has its roots in Tim’s fascination with hip-hop, and it plays like a bit of electronic constructionism. Cohen’s vocals barely seem to rest atop of the beats, but it fits in with the mood of the album, especially when the tone is lightened during the chorus. It’s a similar track to the appearance of sampled beats early with “Invisible at Midnight.” The construction of the song definitely revolves around the electronic elements, but like the previously mentioned track, there’s an explosion of brightness that comes with the chorus. Such delicate touches to the construction of each track demonstrate how careful the group has been in finishing off their compositions....full text
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