Music Reviews

Magic Kids Memphis

(True Panther Sounds) Rating - 6/10

Since when did showy enthusiasm become such a faux pas? There’s something about gleeful artists. You know, the ones whose intentions are to eagerly express that much needed everyday joy without even the slightest rationale. Holding a very appropriate band name, Magic Kids spread enchanting serotonins to induce high levels of happiness with their constant bouts of ritualistic chamber pop. In other words, they’re mighty serious about their happy and they know it, and they really want to show it attitude. 

Hailing from the city of Memphis, the Magic Kids are an enthusiastic quintet that holds close ties to their musical heritage. Their debut, Memphis, openly exhibits an appreciation for diverse forms of middle of the road inspired pop, blending strong melodic hooks with an abundance of orchestration and vocal harmony techniques. With this format, they blend a few modern touches to compensate for the heavy use of throwback material. Early on, desirous love song Candy exemplifies their need to sugarcoat their pop sensibilities. It’s jubilant strings and sparse horn use is coordinated with celebratory rhythms and crescendo harmonizing, resulting in what becomes a grand, theatrical exclamation of joy.

Not to completely misapprehend it as a summer album, Memphis treats that time period like turning an hourglass that lasts only three months. The summer theme is treated more as a mechanism for the characters to seek and, hopefully, voice their opinions about their true affections; well, besides the shallow references about getting tans and listening to the radio.  Though the lyrical structure is simplistic and inane, it doesn’t take much to figure out how it was designed to follow the Beach Boys' early album recordings. Skateland is nothing more than a substandard surf rock anthem with vintage keyboard touches, while Hey Boy follows the same suit with an awkward, show tune inspired choral harmony that comes off as incredibly tacky. It's mind boggling how young bands keep borrowing from the Beach Boys’ less critically lauded (not to mention mediocre) period.

Listening to Memphis, it’s not implausible to describe Magic Kids as aspiring dramatists. Most of the song arrangements hold a striking resemblance to chipper Broadway tunes. In wishy-washy Phone, it’s really not that hard to imagine the band members abandoning their instruments to take part in some rousing dance numbers when the Sesame Street-like piano arrangement kicks with full force. Even lead singer Bennett Foster employs a mournful construct by way of sentimental balladry. A cross between Jens Lekman and Christopher Owens, his low-pitched, soulful cadence registers effectively with Memphis’ lively nature.

Memphis quirky, yet elegant approach to different forms of the classic popular song sound fresh in comparison to 2010’s other summer offerings. What it does suffer from is a voracious appetite for stuffing too much in such a small package. Though the exuberant production is nothing to scoff at, the heavy use of random orchestration in each and every song demonstrates a noticeable disparity; it’s hard to tell what direction they want to take. Magic Kids do pull off a winner with Summer, a sultry delight of abounding strings and tropical strums that, sadly, sounds out of place with the obvious eye winks scattered throughout. Memphis may borrow from such an imaginative time period, but their explorative range remains very limited.