Young Magic – Breathing Statues (Carpark Records, 2014)

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Young Magic’s debut LP Melt in 2012 made an interesting impression on me; it had one of the best album artwork’s of the year and had some corking Dub and Neo-psychedelic pieces contained within its deeply experimental structure, but as a unified whole it was, dare I say it, a little unimpressive. It didnt feel cohesive and felt increasingly more stale and overblown through its rather brief span, but I thought it had a lot of potential and I was excited to hear that the group had a new record on the horizon; but let me say that this is not the album I’m sure many people were expecting.

Introductory 30 second opener, appropriately titled “One”, should have, I suppose, alerted me to the shift in their sonic direction but I suppose it’s rather innocuous, welcoming us into their temple through enigmatic and breathy, reversed and reverbed female vocals before tumbling in to “Fall In”. Whilst female vocals were extant on Melt through Melati Malay, they were more supplementary and never at the fore, and we better get comfortable with them because they feature on virtually every track. It’s a rather more low-key affair than what we’re used to, bathing us in luxurious Dream Pop rather than rambunctious Electro beats, maintaining delicious guitar lines and cheeky synthesised sax blats as it gently ebbs and flows.

Stunner “Foxglove” is want to minimise things even further in its hushed, whispered vocal lines, crooning guitar and emphatic percussion acting as a driving force. It’s one of my favourite tracks of the record honestly, hovering on an ethereal knife-edge that’s both simultaneously anxious in its instrumentation and seemingly relaxed in the chilled, smeared voices. It’s a little funny then that a rumbling bassline thrums out of the initial mix on “Something In The Water”, a place where we almost feel like we’re back on the debut in its crystalline synths and generally shimmery production. It goes by in the same hallucinogenic blur that we’re accustomed to though:

“I can give you everything you wanted and more”

she says, barely audible beneath the sharp hi-hats and thick, cruising bassline. This refreshing consistency is maintained largely through “Ageless” where things get a little more energised and begin to perk up, become more actively rhythmic. The synths are a bit more juddering and cool and the attitude just a little darker; “your secret’s safe with me” she breathes in a brief lull, hemmed in by the lush guitar lines and skyline dominating bass before tumbling out to those crystalline synth notes in the sparse closing moments. Followup “Cobra” marks the onset of a more experimental phase during the mid-album though; simplicity is key in the warped and lo-fi guitar that drives the piece, cyclically stuttering its message out as Malay moans in the backfield.

“Holographic” arrives on the delicate strums of what sounds like a harp, but that sounds too romantic, too good to be true, especially as it tumbles into vaguely Oriental sounding synth riffs before the onset of the vocals. It almost sounds like Isaac has taken the mic on this one or it could just be the sheer lack of reverb and processing, but either way the clarity (despite their continued burial) is refreshing, still occupying the curious grey zone between intelligible and mysterious. It just has a great electronic and inorganic sound that mirrors its title. Gritty late album “Mythnomer” is a flash from the past, its dark and menacingly slow sequences sound like they’ve recycled “Sparkly” or something and crushed it into oblivion. Warped and angry vocals hit hard and hang heavy in the midst of the black and oscillating synth and clanking percussion; it’s got an after-hours feel, an illicit sensation for when the Sun goes down.

“Waiting For The Ground To Open” is a rather pleasant juxtaposition to “Mythnomer”‘s oppressive beats, carrying itself on toybox like xylophonic tinklings and floatacious vocal coos, playing itself out carefully as Emmanuel and Malay share vocal duties. That internal yin and yang is nice too, with one occupying a much more optimistic and lightweight space whilst the other is heavier and more grounded: realistic and mature almost. It ends almost a minute before its time is up, the dead space being filled with aimless but soothing  xylophonic meanders to see us to closer “Captcha”, opening strongly to blatting basslines and far removed vocals. I dont want to say it’s a strange closer but I almost feel like it should have been switched with its preceding track, largely abandoning melody in favour of harsh and heavily weathered lyrics that are even more unfathomable than usual, appropriately enough. It’s human alright, but in order to root out those pesky machines it’s got to the point where even its creators cant decipher it anymore, all value and meaning lost in a jumble of smeared words.

I like this so much more than Melt simply because it feels whole, it feels like it’s got some sense of continuity and shape, even if perhaps it doesn’t have any discernible theme or overarching concept. The change in direction is surprising but it works well, with just enough of those beefy basslines and crystallised synth carried over to remind us of their earlier work whilst not being overly attached. There is still something amiss that I cant quite place; maybe it’s the frustrating lack of clear vocals, something to let me murmur or sing along to, I’m not quite sure, but it’s a decent record that fans of Dream and Synth Pop may want to have a peek at this year.

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