January 19, 2009: Here We Go Magic

Luke Temple‘s solo albums have been relatively conventional singer-songwriter-folkie stuff compared to the psych-drone-freak-folk of his new project— in fact, Here We Go Magic‘s moody, hypnotic ambience sounds so unlike 2007’s Snowbeast (whose crisp, dry sound and vintage synth colors carry a distinct 70s-prog vibe) that the casual listener would never guess that the new albums were written by the same person. So what prompted the change? Is Temple jumping on the Grizzly Bear/Animal Collective bandwagon while chanting over piles of loops smothered in reverb is still a viable career option?

Whatever his motives are, HWGM is a pretty damn good album regardless, or at least half a damn good album. The first half would have made a killer EP: the marimba-like percussive loops and droning vocals of “Only Pieces” sounds both soothing and oddly intense, like a light mushroom buzz; “Ahab”‘s Meters-like riff submerges itself in the song’s tape hiss while the bright organ drones cut right through it. “Fangela” and “Tunnelvision”, though, are the big winners here, with their clanging, yip-jumpy acoustic guitars and Temple showing off his Gibbard-tested, Sufjan-approved falsetto to great effect. The unassuming, easygoing vibe these songs have make me think that Temple is just a really, really good musician in general; really good musicians tend to exude a certain level of confidence and focus that makes anything they play seem natural, and that’s what I hear throughout this album.

That said, the second half is a bit of a letdown, dominated as it is by ambient washes lacking any vocal or rhythmic hooks that served as vital anchors to the songs of the first half. Closing track “Everything’s Big” is a twee bit of softshoe pop that would have fit onto a Temple solo album just fine; here, the rough production gives it the grainy feel of a field recording, but it still feels tacked on and out of place. Here We Go Magic is the kind of album that doesn’t feel like an endpoint, a culmination of a musical search, but rather a stop in the middle of the journey. It’s the kind of album that gets me excited to see what Temple will do next.