Sharp, disciplined, and seriously compelling stuff from the Brooklyn band.
Chris Power 2012-05-04
When they play live, Here We Go Magic’s intricately constructed indie-pop often spins off into extended, ecstatic jams, clearly descended from the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. But where those bands looked back to blues and 1950s rock‘n’roll, stretching it until it took on mythic proportions, HWGM are like a late-60s psychedelic band dreaming their way towards the perfected machine-like repetitions of Krautrock.
It was the band’s live show, even at its most ragged, one hungover morning at Glastonbury 2010, that caught the ear of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and it’s that counterfactual retro sensibility – “a 60s version of science fiction”, in bandleader Luke Temple’s description – that infuses the sharply focused songs on A Different Ship. That decade’s stamp is most discernible on the Latin-inflected melody of the menace-fringed title-track, which taps the same vein of anxious psychedelia running through Love’s Forever Changes.
Anxiety of various kinds presides over the album, with every song taking sides in a debate on the credits and debits of intimacy. Hard to Be Close quickly establishes the theme, the melody’s unexpected shift from major to minor amplifying the lyric’s push and pull between intimacy and isolation.
The tussle continues throughout, Alone But Moving asserting an independence that’s immediately undercut by the lines from I Believe in Action: “Nobody wants to live in the middle / Cos nobody wants to be left alone.” This song exemplifies the sonic clarity Godrich has brought to A Different Ship: a trancelike wave rises from a chicken-scratch riff and crests in a buzzing synth chord, the song embodying its message by performing a single, smooth transition, then ending.
Make Up Your Mind is similarly direct, its fusion of motorik funk, chanted vocals and synth splashes recalling the calibrated techno-pop of Yello; and this impressive detailing is even more noticeable in the album’s quieter passages.
A Different Ship is far from a break with HWGM’s past – the final track recedes into the sort of drone that punctuated their 2009 debut, while How Do I Know is another Neu!-go-pop gem in the manner of Collector from Pigeons (2010) – but it is a reconfiguring that accentuates their strengths.
Played live these songs will metastasise into expansive jams, and will sound great when they do, but here and now they’re sharp, disciplined, and seriously compelling.