One of my favorite and most-listened to albums of the year so far is also the hardest to pin down and describe. I’m not sure if this is due more to the fact that Here We Go Magic’s self-titled debut is all over the place stylistically, or if I’m just not as clever as I originally thought. Regardless… at the round length of nine-tracks, this record is easily divisible into thirds: three are completely ambient, three fall into more of a “song”-song category, and the remaining third finds a sort of middle-ground between the two extremes. This isn’t to say that “ambience” and “pop” are mutually exclusive animals. Indeed, Here We Go Magic make a convincing case that these approaches ultimately need each other, especially by today’s progressive-music standards – and it’s these ambient-pop combos that really give the group’s debut outing an edge. One standout is “I Just Want to See You Underwater,” which emerges quietly and gracefully from a murky depth with soft, pulsating drums and a vamped two-chord progression that swells and swirls around a pair of haunting, submerged vocals. At his best, Here We Go Magic mastermind Luke Temple really understands the importance of creating a musical mood and place, and thus transports the listener there – trapping them within his soft and colorful landscapes.
But the album’s widely diverse sound (being firstly, the record’s initial pull and strength) is also the one and only source of frustration. These 9 tracks are aching to fit together more cohesively. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the ambient noise songs, like with “Ghost List,” which folds static, fuzz, and feedback into warm blankets of sound you can really wrap yourself into. They’re never long enough to really get boring, so it’s tough to complain. Still, their placement within the context of the record as a whole feels odd. It’s like a puzzle where the nooks and crannies are chiseled and well defined, but don’t quite slide in just the way they should.
Whatever pitfalls this will cause with listeners, however, are sure to be reconciled by the outstanding nature of the album’s individual works. “Fangela” is a wonderfully bouncy track that feels like a sort of inter-stellar cowboy tune. It’s also creepy and inviting: who, or what, is Fangela? My guess is a seductive vampiress, which really jives with the enticing pull of the the song’s infectious melody and chord progression. Meanwhile, the closer “Everything’s Big,” which at first feels wildly out of place with it’s waltzy feel and Schmilsson-style vocals, reveals itself over time as the album’s biggest grower, and ultimately most rewarding song. As a whole, the album definitely stands as one of the year’s most exciting debuts and reveals a band that I really hope doesn’t get lost in the folds. But given their recent busy tour schedule, which included loads of dates with the likes of Grizzly Bear and Walkmen, it’s not clear that’s a very real threat, at least any time soon.