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4 or 5 Magicians Empty Derivative Pop Songs Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

The realities of life as a 20-something man in an underground band are laid bare.

Mike Haydock 2009

If you’re a fan of late-80s/early-90s American indie – and by that we’re talking Pavement, REM, Dinosaur Jr and Guided By Voices – then this Brighton quartet are very much for you.

Recorded on a tight budget and put together bit by bit in a rehearsal room, this debut is understandably raw, with tinny production values, serrated guitars and minimal vocal overdubs. But even if 4 or 5 Magicians had had stacks of cash behind them, you can’t escape the feeling that they’d still have recorded it in this lo-fi fashion. Their heroes and inspirations demand it.

The production makes Empty Derivative Pop Songs sound genuine, charming and deliciously dangerous. Frontman and songwriter Dan Ormsby is bursting with love for making music, and you can feel the multitude of influences bubbling around in his brain, fighting for attention. One minute he’ll let Pavement free, the next he’ll step on the distortion pedal and unleash Pixies. The result is schizophrenic, eccentric and unpredictable.

But Ormsby’s biggest talent lies in the ability to pin these jagged edges down with catchy pop melodies – yes, the album title is ironic, but as with everything 4 or 5 Magicians do, it’s knowingly so. Is This Your Ideal Man? is the perfect example, opening with a squeal of white noise before breaking into a catchy-as-hell punk song. “He wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but he would say c*** to a nun,” Ormsby sings, “he wouldn’t dare dice with your dad, but he wouldn’t think twice with your mum.”

Beyond the cracking choruses, it’s this acerbic wit that makes 4 or 5 Magicians an essential listen – Ormsby’s gift of the gab matches Alex Turner’s or Mike Skinner’s, but he delivers his lines without showiness and with a smile on his face. Living off Sainsbury’s Basics, refusing to grow up too soon, losing touch with school friends and racking up debts… they’re all in here as the realities of life as a 20-something man in an underground band are laid bare. You can’t help but empathise and sing along.

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