In an eyebrow-raising introduction to their new album, Here We Go Magic chose some startling imagery to accompany the debut of “Make Up Your Mind,” the first single from A Different Ship. In the song’s video clip, singer Luke Temple is dressed in S&M leather-daddy gear, putting some kind of paralyzing hex on women writhing around in their undies. Once you get past the awkward sexual aspect, or for that matter the faint whiff of misogyny — which the band cleverly corrected in an alternate clip in which Temple is actually throwing hexes on men — it’s an unexpectedly fitting metaphor for what the band does musically. Repetition, hypnosis and endlessly locked grooves are some of the essential ingredients in a Here We Go Magic song, which have the unique ability to put the listener under a wonderful spell, writhing in undies not necessary.
The psychedelic, rhythmic energy of Here We Go Magic’s first true triumph as a band, 2010’s Pigeons, remains a dominant theme on A Different Ship, with their spacious, synth-laden daydreams and wiry, caffeine-binge funk-pop each veering to their logical extreme. It’s the most Here We Go Magic they’ve ever been, the contrasting elements of their sonic make-up given all the more breathing room thanks to some production flourishes from Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. When they set their compass to far off planets in a cosmic jam like “I Believe in Action,” their funk ends up in entirely new galaxies.
As expansive or jittery as the album’s peaks get, A Different Ship begins in a surprisingly understated manner, with only the hushed strum of acoustic guitar beneath Temple’s gentle and warm opening lines, “It’s hard, sometimes/to be close.” It sounds more folk than twitchy psychedelia, more Fleet Foxes than Stereolab, but it’s given room to grow and to blossom, ultimately ending in a place very different than where it began, big, colorful waves of synthesizer filling in all of the remaining empty space. By and large, the band seems comfortable with letting their more laconically paced songs be without much fuss; “Miracle of Mary” and “Made to Be Old” are each quite lovely, production wise, if somewhat lethargic, drawing sharp contrast to the places on the album in which the group’s energy really ignites.
When Here We Go Magic locks into that pulsing, manic energy, it’s a thing of strange and exhausting beauty. “Make Up Your Mind” is the most explicitly manic track, jerking and twitching and bending in every direction, much like those poor models on apartment floors. Even more stunning is “I Believe in Action,” which finds a common ground between the group’s Talking-Heads-in-miniature technique and pupil-dilating, endorphin-surging space travel. It hits hard, but without working their tempos too hard, or losing any of the prettier flourishes in service of gaining momentum, finding a tricky but perfect balance in the end.
Further demonstrating this principle is the eight-minute closing title track, a monster of a psych ballad that puts one of the band’s greatest triumphs of songwriting into a reasonably straightforward vessel. It layers on some reverb and a handful of other ambient effects, but it’s ultimately a four-chord pop song made stronger through the impeccable interplay between Temple and Kristina Lieberson’s voices, and the element of suspense that pays off in an explosive, droning finale. Grooves, repetition and polyrhythms don’t even play much of a role here, despite being some of the characteristics that make so many of their other songs memorable, even great. It’s a clear sign of Here We Go Magic’s continually compelling artistic growth — sometimes an artist’s greatest talent isn’t knowing how much to add, but rather what to remove.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.