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  • Writer's pictureRyan ANTIART

ALBUM REVIEW: Magdalena Bay, Mercurial World

Grade: B-

Like many words, “mercurial” is one that has two distinct meanings. “Of mercury” is probably the first one that comes to mind. An antique glass thermometer is “mercurial”, with that poisonous silver liquid suspended perfectly. Fluid, shiny, dangerous, combined with mercurial’s alternate meaning, prone to shifts in moods and behaviors, is how I would describe the new Magdalena Bay record. This is a band that is clearly not content with making homogenous electronic pop. Instead, they chose to make music that is Homogenic, containing multitudes but still sharply focused on a central idea. It’s not that you hear a hip-hop song, then a rock song, then a club song as you might on an album that is unpolished or compilation-like, it is all streamlined into one genre that can really only be labeled as “Magdalena Bay”. While it is not as ambitious or unique as say, the way Death Grips or Bjork or Cocteau Twins or Beach House have done it in the past, the duo has an inarguably singular sound on Mercurial World.

It is a sound that’s full of Pacman arcade noises, distinct rhythms, thick and groovy bass and soaring melodies produced by the synths and by lead vocalist Mica Tenenbaum. The strongest element of this record is how consistently they are able to keep that palatable formula going. Even on the songs I don’t like that much, like “Something for 2”, the production and singing is so pleasant and warm that it doesn’t bring the party to a halt. The party itself is a DJ set full of ‘70s piano funk, the groove-heavy rock of Tame Impala, and many others that I will get into as I highlight some of my favorite tracks, a.k.a. the majority of the album. “The End” is pure Kero Kero Bonito, down to the claps and spoken word vocals, and switches up brilliantly in the title track of the record. It’s apparent from this song the duo is attentive to the little production details as well as making the vocals both poppy and bold. I can’t quite pin down the influence, but I could totally see Mica being a big fan of Britney Spears as a kid. “Secrets (Your Fire)” switches up the mood to that classic Fred Falke and Alan Braxe French house sound that was so deeply embedded in early ‘00s music. Classic hip-hop drums and penthouse keyboard licks swirl into this very pointed and colorful sound. As I mentioned early about emotional switch ups, the track lyrically delves into a combustible, palpable romance that can often be so unpredictable. The more Mica reveals about herself to this person, the more passionate the connection gets, and the more potentially destructive it can be when it reaches its full potential.

“You Lose!” feels like that destruction occurring in real-time, with grungy drum and guitar sections that are right out of the Smashing Pumpkins playbook. Mica is more than ready to assume the role of a rock front woman, even if it's just for one song. While this is a dramatic change in sound, it still feels like it is in line with the other tracks on the record. The arcade sounds are in full effect, and the song even ends with that classic Pacman death sound that we all know and love. While we’re talking about the singles that lead up to this record, “Chaeri” sounds even more appropriate between these other tracks. It has more of a contemporary house sound, where the percussion is less concerned with breaks than it is bass. It’s one of the few tracks on the record that really builds all the way from the depths and reaches a satisfying peak. I really like how this song and “Dreamcatching” both sound artful and clubby at the same time. With a few small tweaks, I could see either of these songs playing at an event like EZoo.

“Halfway” is a track that feels longer and more fleshed out than it really is. It starts as this blocky, repetitive and punchy little piece of R&B. Before you know it, the second half turns into this oddly cinematic synth worship that I can’t get enough of. I feel like the world has been sorely missing ambient pieces and pop being side-by-side since the release of Kill For Love by Chromatics, and I’m happy to see it return in such a tasteful way. “Hysterical Us” couldn’t be more different in tone and sound, reminding me of a cross between Doja Cat, Hall and Oates and the new Brijean record. It’s this chill ‘70 disco sound that is so overdone, but well-done and refreshing in this context. In other words, it’s an exception to a trend that does justice to the era of music it takes inspiration from. “Prophecy”, meanwhile, literally sounds like something off Bjork’s Homogenic. The strings, trip-hop drums and sparkles are “Joga” through and through, and to be honest, I think they do this sound well too. Just like Bjork did on that record, the band blends their influences and their specific style and makes it something that really could only come from them.

“Follow The Leader” is another great switch-up in the tracklisting. Just as I was getting a little tired of patient music, we get to the point, ‘00s electropop revival. Italo disco is a genre that comes to mind for sure, Drive-esque neo-synth wave music that feels both sexy and brooding. The vocals on the track are modulated and fucked with in such a satisfying way, using that blocky, 16-bit sound to their advantage. The finale, called “The Beginning” is definitely exciting and ends things off with a bang, but I guess that’s really not the point. It’s funky and full of panische, but on the first track, Mica says “I was thinking about how there’s no true end to anything...Everything comes to and goes to the same place/Nowhere!” While it’s a party and effectively works, it slowly fades away into an atmospheric piano section, and loops right back into the first track. Just like that liquid mercury, it continues to flow with no true edges, end or start. Before I wrap up my review, I also want to give props to the graphic design team behind the single and cover art for the era of the band. I listened to the singles for this based purely on the art they made, I particularly love the Pokemon Ghost-type “You Lose!” design. That’s it, this is a great record, one of this year’s absolute best in my opinion. This band has a bright future. Bye.

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