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The Magic Magicians - s/t

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Artist: The Magic Magicians

Album: s/t

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Review date: Oct. 17, 2003

Like sex, alcohol, and war, rock music is something that we human beings just can’t give up, though we know it’s not always good for us. As the White Stripes have so lucratively discovered, people need the stuff, especially the stripped-down, (seemingly) underproduced variety. It’s hard to say why this is, exactly, although rock seems to tap into the same primal source that attracts us to those other universal vices. When parents in the ’50s got upset about rock and roll, they thought it would drive the youth of America to ruin, and they were mostly right. Rock music can be sexy, powerfully dumb, and deeply suggestive. Certainly there are people who have tried heroin because of Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, and we can only assume that at least a few of us have followed Motley Crue’s suggestion to have a smoke break in the toilet.

If rock and roll didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, because it expands our notions of what we can do, be, and feel. There’s a reason that so many bands today are employing a “dance” component to their sound and their live shows: we’re getting to know rock all over again. In the early days of the genre, up through the ’60s, that’s what rock was for. You didn’t go see the Who to marvel at Keith Moon’s inventive drum technique or Roger Daltrey’s poufy hair – you went to dance. Nothing else had sounded like this, and there was no popular sound that could compete. Rock would, ultimately, pursue more serious, self-justifying avenues, but it’s arguable that nothing from rock’s birth sounds better than the early, dance-centric material. There’s a visceral connection to the music that has never been surpassed.

You can’t exactly dance to the Magic Magicians, but there’s no doubt that they prize the direct immediacy of rock’s sound over other, more cerebral concerns. It’s not garage rock, but neither is it pop. If the songs were given more time, craft, and production care, they could ultimately sound like guitar pop, but the stripped-down, first-take approach of the Magicians is so “rock” that it avoids sub-categorization. The immediacy and simplicity here avoid both the more streamlined jangle-pop aesthetic of singer/guitarist John Atkins’ main outfit 764-Hero, and its miles from the restrained sadness of drummer Joe Plummer’s Black Heart Procession. And as side projects go, it’s refreshing to hear one so bereft of pretension of lofty ambitions. It sounds as if Atkins and Plummer had merely sucked down a few beers and bashed out some tunes in their garage over the weekend. This is not to undermine their talents, but rather to celebrate the basic energy of the record, which makes you want to suck down some beers yourself and have a go at the rock.

This relaxed atmosphere has produced some real gems, including the terrific “Cascade Express”, a ramshackle, bitter slice of sub-pop that would rest comfortably next to early Mudhoney. It’s all dirty drum breaks, accusatory lyrics, and a minor-to-major key shift in the chorus that turns the song into a monster. Not everything reaches these heights, but like most side projects, you’re willing to wade through some chaff to get the wheat. There’s little here that’s revelatory, but it’s a short, sweet, and satisfying rock album that plugs into the simple core of the music’s appeal. Guest shots by Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss and a few other Northwest luminaries spice things up, and the album begs to be spun again once it’s finished. We can’t give this stuff up, so don’t even try.

By Jason Dungan

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