Here We Go Magic Release “Pigeons,” Play “Brooklyn”
When “Collector”—the first single off Here We Go Magic’s sophomore record, “Pigeons” (Secretly Canadian)—hit playlists back in March, it seemed like Luke Temple’s moment had finally arrived. ”It’s hard to imagine a more encouraging introduction,” Pitchfork wrote of the song, as if portending a 9.5 review for the full album. Others were similarly impressed. After years toiling the well-worn singer-songwriter circuit, the 30-something front man would finally hit the big time with his much weirder, much better new band.
Unfortunately, things are rarely that tidy—particularly in this business. “Pigeons” is an undeniably great record, certainly more jubilant and propulsive than last year’s admirable self-titled debut. In place of the woozy lo-fi folk of the first record, “Pigeons” offers a sure-footed romp through a range of seemingly contradictory influences—The Talking Heads, krautrock, Paul Simon (again), even modern R & B—without losing the band’s trademark gauzy charm. The music is still decidedly soft-focus, but now it rocks … sort of.
Much of Here We Go Magic’s newfound cohesion has to do with the quality of Temple’s band, and the simple fact that he didn’t have one the first time around. (HWGM’s debut was recorded entirely by Luke in his apartment over the course of just two months.) The band’s frighteningly well-curated analog synths are the best thing about album standout “Land of Feeling” (which brings to mind Radiohead’s “House of Cards”) while Jennifer Turner’s assertive fuzz bass is the rum in “Old World United”’s freak-pop punch.
But ultimately, “Pigeons” isn’t quite what it could be, or what everyone wanted it to be. Nothing matches the blissed-out momentum of “Collector,” the way the song seems to float inches above your head, willing you to follow it into the stratosphere. Too many tunes, particularly “Bottom Feeder” and “Surprise,” slip dangerously back into singer-songwriter territory—something which Temple was always expert at, but which HWGM wasn’t create for. Remove that semi-translucent veil hanging over the band’s music, and the mystery is lost.
All of which may partly explain why seeing the band live can be such an odd experience. After a year of near constant touring behind their debut, the quintet have become adept at transforming Luke’s twisty folk mumblings into dynamic rock ’n’ roll. At the band’s record release show Tuesday night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, “Only Pieces,” “Fangela” and “Tunnelvision”—the only tunes plucked from the first record—were injected with a serious dose of drama. The songs built up and collapsed in on themselves like sand castles in front of a high tide.
For the most part, the tunes from the new record also benefited from the live treatment. With his jazzmaster and open-necked Hawaiian T-shirt, Luke rolled his band through the drone funk of “Moon” and the beachside melancholy of “Casual.” Two guys from fellow Brooklynites White Rabbits even showed up to bang on some drums.
But there was a nagging sense that some of the nuance was being lost, that the music’s rougher edges were being rounded off. The audience looked by turns enthralled and mystified, like they didn’t know whether to rock out or drug out. And the truth is, there wasn’t a right answer. One missed the records’ eccentricities, their quieter instrumentation, the synth bubbles bursting over distant acoustic guitars. And yet, often enough, HWGM’s humble music benefited from a live five-piece band with two electric guitars and a bass player in high heels.
As Here We Go Magic head off on this year’s summer festival circuit (they play Bonnaroo and Glastonbury later this month), this will be a tension they’ll have to master—that between the expectations of fans in love with the band’s prodigious quirk and the necessity of playing in front of thousands of people on an international stage. People are anticipating great things from Luke and his crew. The tricky part is delivering.
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