For the first time in my life, I have a record player. In the digital age of 99-cent mp3s and Spotify, vinyl is far more than an anachronism. In the accelerated time scales of modern technology, vinyl is a museum relic. Something to marvel at, take pictures of. How the hell do you work this thing? And if you’re a flower-child from the 70s who listened to Seals and Croft and watched tapestries become TV screens on your wall, don’t worry, CDs will be going the same way as vinyl soon–making my generation as ancient as yours.
There was a certain esthetic with vinyl, however, that I think authenticates the “Aquarian Age” sentimentality, one that guaranteed a certain quality of sonic excellence. In retrospect, the idea seemed to be “alright, if we’re going to go through the trouble of physically pressing this music onto vinyl and designing an encyclopedia-sized cover for it, it had better be good!” The iTunes age, with all its abundance and non-physical ease, allows for a sort of brashness and callous fatalism (“let’s just get it out there”) on the part of songwriters that would have been quite shocking in the era of LPs.
Can you imagine today’s chart-topping slush in a record player?
Which is what makes Here We Go Magic’s latest offering, Be Small, so bright and refreshing. Hell, it’s what makes their whole discography so refreshing. When Luke Temple and the band came to Salt Lake last week, you could see it in people’s faces: this feels different! I have a theory that when the music is good, anyone can connect with it. All the 50-somethings wore big smiles and pulled out their best two-step while the millennial kids stood cooly in the sea of vibes, hands thrust into pockets, deigning to nod their heads in affirmation.
Despite the thirty-year gap, they felt the same thing.
I realized that Here We Go Magic is living outside of the chronological order assigned to them. Temple’s philosophic falsetto, hiding lyrics in plain sight, blending into a palette of psychedelic, catchy folk-rock has created a synth-ology that plays like the theme music for a free-spirited generation ready to rewrite all the rules. In other words, you should really listen to this band on vinyl, because that’s precisely what they intended. It’s not the kind of cheap music you buy in bulk at an iTunes bodega.
Actually, it’s HWGM’s seventies ethos that makes their sound so fresh and vibrant. In a time where the U.S. government keeps finding more reasons to invade the Middle East and American culture in general has been reduced to a petri dish of its own worst commercial elements, there’s a boundless experimentalism in the Brooklyn band’s compositions that takes you back to the days of the national anthem filtered through Hendrix’s raunchy electric chords. Listening to Be Small, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d fit well in the post-Woodstock scene.
Synthy scapes of shifting light, quicksilver pools of lilac swirling on grayscale, melodies rising and falling, sometimes giddy and ecstatic, always a triumphant melding of acoustic and electric. While not as hypnotic, perhaps, as Pigeons or their early titular record, Be Small is bursting with Temple’s lyricism, which borders on the visionary. The title song finds him balancing the reality of our frailty with a vision of our theoretical authorship of reality:
Only big within a frame
Only small under the blue
Only life we ever dreamed of
All you see is all of you
Elsewhere, Temple delivers a compelling metaphor for today’s materialism in the upbeat faux-paen to New York City, “Candy Apple”:
Here in the reformation
the pegasus has been tamed
its dirty wings are heavy now
with our culture’s ball and chain
Temple’s lullaby tone and delivery sometimes belie the profundity of his lines, which can make those second and third listens highly entertaining. Sort of like a weird composite animal conveyed in a golden chariot, which is just another reason to put this album under your audio microscope. Highlights of Be Small include the anthemic “Falling”, which already has this really cool video; the aforementioned “Candy Apple”; “News” and its infectious Allman Brothers feel; and “Tokyo London”, which, I’ll warn you, is lethally catchy. My girlfriend hasn’t been able to free herself of that one since the show!
I walked out that night with the Pigeons vinyl nestled in the crook of my arm, an absent smile draped across my face. The same one, I suspect, draped across the face of that one baby-boomer lady I overheard lamenting to her friend, “Why can’t they do four more?” It had been a good ol’ barn-burning jam session, one that gave you the sense that these guys, instead of just performing a static repertoire, are constantly trying to tweak their sound, or, perhaps, tease something new out of it. Like it was 1973 again, every band still shivering from the diverse explosion of Americana music into infinite sub-genres. Like everyone still had a record player in their living-room.
As I put the needle to the record and registered the impressionistic effusion of those first spilling notes, that typically rich Here We Go Magic sound, the thought occurred to me…how do the young people manage these days?