Magic Kids Magic KidsMemphis
“If it makes you sad, then it’s bad music,” declared Magic Kids recently in the fashion magazine Nylon. Some people would give them the cold shoulder for a lie like that, but to get attention for their music, that little phrase couldn’t be better. The youthful, jubilant proposal that they present in “Memphis” is overflowing with colours and smiles, rays of light, and an outpouring of instrumentation. Thanks to this first collection of songs, the group has been signed by True Panther Sounds, the current label of big names like Delorean, Girls, Real Estate, and Morning Benders. Nevertheless, although in theory it’s more immediate and accessible than the recent launches of those bands, “Memphis” isn’t playing in the same league: it’s neither as well-written as Girls’ debut—which would be really difficult to surpass—nor does it come close to the maturity shown by Morning Benders in the exemplary “Big Echo”, which just keeps on growing on us with repeated listens. We do have to recognise that, as musicians, Magic Kids have that wonderful capacity to raise songs within the first five seconds that they are playing. But we are looking at a group that still has to grow up, think where it wants to go, and to blaze a trail to get there. “Memphis” is an infantile album: it makes you think directly of the good old days (sigh) but also of better albums.
Arising from two bands to keep an eye on, The Barbaras and Girls Of The Gravitron, the lush quintet recorded this album last March. Right away, the song “Summer,” one of the album’s best, was received on the Internet as the summer song of the future. At supersonic speed, but also running the risk of spontaneous combustion, “Summer” made them into a little hype connected inevitably with the memory of Brian Wilson, which everybody has made sure to vaguely bring to light. This is the general idea, but not entirely. Although they take us back more to the beaches of the West Coast that are so “in” these days than anywhere else—their obvious differences aside, they are on the same wavelength as Best Coast, Surfer Blood, Wavves, and all of those bands that manage to make us think about surf without making surf music— their music is basically a rather simple mix of the essences of the most easily-digested baroque, twee, and power-pop. Produced by Shane Stonebevk (Sleigh Bells, Vampire Weekend, Britney Spears) and named after the capital of the state of Tennessee, “Memphis” seeks to refresh the bluesy image that we all have of the city, and also to make us forget its musical history for just a moment. You know: Sun Records and Stax, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc., etc.
The thing is, the record’s light character doesn’t entirely hide its predicament as a pop pastime. Also, “Memphis” doesn’t reveal first-rate musicians that can at all hold a candle to such illustrious forerunners. The memory that comes to mind is more like an early Of Montreal, in the sense of a beginner band overflowing with curiosity but with some gaps that need to be plugged to get to the next stage. Besides reminding one of the outline of Kevin Barnes’ group in the way that they cook up some Elephant 6 spice, they seem to make a direct appeal in certain songs such as “Superball” and “Skateland”, two songs that rest on details that would not have been out of place in the imminent “False Priest”. As far as the section of “catalogue resources that stand out a mile” goes: the lead song “Phone” sounds shamelessly like “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits, and it falters with indie trips like Teenage Fanclub several times, and the choruses of the lovely, lovely “Hey Boy” hark back to the unforgettable memory of The Langley Schools Music Project. As a whole, “Memphis” has a cute melodic vision, but at the same time it leaves holes to be filled in the majority of its folds (it lacks glue). It is full of affected melodic lines and free quavering, but it lacks solid, deeper songs that stick in your memory right away and stay there forever. This is why the comparisons with gods like the Beach Boys, ELO, The Beatles, and The Zombies that have rained down on them will have to wait a while. For the moment, Magic Kids can only be put in the same sack as other good-looking, superfluous groups like Bishop Allen.