Sunshine and tears…
Boy, do these Californians love their Orange Juice. Not, however, the golden state’s fruity elixir, but the Scottish variety. Despite their San Franciscan base and their relative youth, Magic Bullets sound like they’d far rather be somewhere midway between Manchester and Glasgow in the early-to-mid 80’s. My geography’s a little rusty, but I make that Carlisle. They purvey a spookily accurate approximation of Postcard Records-style jangle-rock, all spindly guitars, twisty bass, arch, slightly wonky vocals and galloping drums, coupled with an evident adoration, bordering on hero-worship, of the Smiths that might make Morrissey blush if he weren’t shielded from embarrassment by his own ego. Fairly obvious comparisons, you’d think, but one listen to ‘Magic Bullets’ and you’d find it hard to think of anything else, such is their wholesale adoption of such familiar sounds.
That’s the first and second gears of Magic Bullets. It begs the question- do they show enough of their own personality on their eponymous second album to go beyond their brazen influences?
Well, I’ll get to that shortly. Firstly, I should make it clear that they do what they do very well indeed. They are certainly no slouches when it comes to crafting a catchy indie-pop song, and ‘Magic Bullets’ is crammed to the rafters with them. Likewise, the musicianship shown here is of a far higher standard than your average scratch’n’sigh indie waifs. Though it’s hard to picture it at this current moment in time, I could easily imagine this being the perfect summer album. If I were listening to it beneath the radiant July sunshine with some chilled cider on the side, I’d probably be too busy grinning like a goon to find any fault whatsoever.
Alas, however, Summer is still too far off to entertain that abstract hypothesis for too long, so it falls to me to focus purely on their musical merits. OK, songs as irresistably hummable as lead-off single ‘Lying Around’ or ‘On Top Of The World’ are joyous explosions of pop exuberance, and it’s pretty hard to fault them, but there’s a nagging feeling that the album should come with all song titles in inverted commas and a list of references in the liner notes.
Sorry for treading the same ground yet again, but, for all guitarist Corey Cunningham’s evident skill, there is one person who should be dialling his lawyer’s number right now- a certain Mr J.Marr. The seamless rhythm/lead blend in ‘Pretend And Descend’ is indubitably impressive, but you know you’ve heard it before, and you know where. Likewise, ‘They Wrote A Song About You’ could easily be a cover version, going way beyond mere resemblance, right down to Philip Benson’s languid vocal.
In spite of the lurking spectre of plagiarism, though, ‘Magic Bullets’ is a good album. Though the interminable sunshine radiating from every song can get somewhat tiresome the more you hear, their consistent tunefulness shines through and saves the day. The counterpoint bass melodies, lush keyboards and florid guitar hooks coalesce together into a satisfyingly full sound, and the irony-free straightforwardness of their delivery is quite refreshing. The effervescent production brings out the maximum colour from the songs.
Benson’s voice can grate after a while- a belligerent Anglophile yelp, like a slightly-more-peeved-than-usual Robert Smith, there is more than a whiff of retro affectation about it. His lyrics, too, evince the odd cringe- aside from penning a song called ‘Sigh The Day Away’, he drops some proper howlers. “Who, pray tell, do I tell of my pain?” he blubs in opener ‘A Day Not So Far Off’, followed presently by him running out of rhymes and painfully enunciating ‘Doo de doo doo doo doo doo de doo”, rather misinterpreting the whole fey-poetic-indie thing. Mostly, though, his singing suits the rather specific musical territory Magic Bullets occupy.
Magic Bullets, both band and album, are difficult to dislike. They obviously share a deep love of the music that influences them, borderline obsessive as it may be, and their wide-eyed earnestness is quite sweet, really. For now, though, I think I’ll put this album away for a while. Come a summer evening and a well-stocked fridge, however, and, well, we’ll see…
(Released March 21st through Mon Amie Records)