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A Mash Note Written in a Foreign Language

Here We Go Magic: Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl)

From the very beginning, Here We Go Magic has had a life of its own. Founder and frontman Luke Temple was in the middle of a robust solo career when he came up with the evocative phrase as a catch-all for a certain kind of arresting, unpolished musical aesthetic—specifically the one on his early four-track demos. Listening later to some of those early takes of his songs, Temple says, he realized that “they were actually more interesting than the album versions,” exhibiting “a certain spontaneity” that had been polished out of the final tracks.

For a while, Temple envisioned “Here We Go Magic” as the title for an album that would anthologize this rawness, but the more he toyed with the idea and the sound that spawned it, the bigger it became, ballooning out of the confines of an LP. Eventually, it even outgrew its creator.

As Temple puts it, “The music on this record seemed to fit better with an ensemble.” He says that he “liked the idea of fading into the background a bit.” So he tabled his planned solo record and set about forming a band to realize the sound buzzing in his ears.

Temple’s new project does have a communal flavor, one perhaps best captured in the exuberant drum-circle rhythms that bubble to the surface on several tracks. But despite the extra band members, Here We Go Magic the album is still very much a one-man show. Temple wrote and recorded every track on the record himself in his Greenpoint apartment, on the same four-track that he had used for those original demos. (The rest of the band, consisting of Peter Hale, Mike Bloch, AJ Lambert, and Kristina Lieberson, accompanies him at live shows.)

Temple’s creative process left an indelible mark on the album, both in the eerie, empty-room effect of its production, and in the lucid-dream tone of the music itself. Here We Go Magic offers a blooming awareness of the universe, an almost childlike sense of wonderment that Temple captures in both his swirling melodies and his cryptic lyrics. On the upbeat “Tunnelvision,” for instance, he stitches his voice across the song’s background in the hushed refrain “Everything is possible,” which adds a delicately optimistic texture to the looping falsetto chorus. In “I Just Want to See You Underwater,” he croons the title phrase like a mantra heard from the bottom of a swimming pool. And in “Everything’s Big,” the album’s most traditional song (and, not coincidentally, a remake of an earlier track), Temple takes a plinked piano riff and builds atop it a tune worthy of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Tolstoy once called music “the shorthand of emotion,” and Here We Go Magic finely illustrates that point. Temple is driving at something here, a specific but indescribable sentiment that he not only captures but also evokes in his listeners, who will walk away from the album with a newfound appreciation for the wonderfulness of life, the glimpsed richness of the world. The experience is sleuth-like, akin to reading a mash note written in a foreign language: The nuances and even the general gist of the thing are lost, but the underlying feeling comes through undiminished, in exclamation point and warbled hook alike.

Temple made a splash on the indie circuit with his first two albums, Hold a Match for a Gasoline World and Snowbeast, and much of the acclaim came from fellow singer-songwriters. His vocals were a particularly big hit. (Sufjan Stevens gushed that Temple has “one of the most beautiful voices in pop music.”) On Here We Go Magic, Temple doesn’t disappoint, showcasing his usual versatility as he switches from rich baritones to lilting, ethereal falsettos, often within the same song.

But while Temple’s voice once again takes center-stage on this album, it’s joined by an African-styled drumbeat that patters through many of the tracks, adding a Graceland-like flavor that’s especially palpable on the disc’s opener, “Only Choices.” A stubbornly naive refutation of death delivered at a trotting clip, it’s quickly followed by the steadier heartbeat of “Tunnelvision,” whose narcotic palpitation bleeds into Temple’s incantatory admonitions about openness and possibility, with hypnotic effect.

Standing out as exceptions to the melodic, drum-driven core of the album are a few instrumental numbers like “Ghost List” and “Babyohbaby—Ijustcantstanditanymore!” In fact, “instrumental” may even be the wrong word: These are collages of synthetic sounds, musical landscapes that stretch from quietly undulating expanses to seething masses of prickly distortion. Interesting as standalone pieces, they come off as diminutive when heard alongside the fuller, more anthemic tracks that make up the album.

On Here We Go Magic’s website, the band describes its music as “a lovely ruckus.” That description certainly applies to at least one of the instrumental tracks (“Nate’s Alien,” which could be a cornfield recording of a hovering spacecraft), but it’s unlikely that the average listener would assign that description to most of the other songs on the album—least of all “Fangela” (pronounced like “Dracula,” with an emphasis on “fang”). By far the LP’s most radio-friendly track, it’s pushed along by an infectious hand-clap rhythm, cascading synth scales, and an exuberantly crooned chorus that could only come from Temple himself. Sufjan was right—this is beautifully vocalized stuff. But this time, the vocals are only the beginning.


Alex Littlefield

Alex Littlefield lives in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in Nylon, Paper, Radar, Slice, and Futureclaw, and on the websites of New York Magazine, Black Book, Flavorwire, and KGB Bar's Lit Journal.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2009

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