With their name, song titles like “Candy” and “Superball,” and average song length of about two and a half minutes, Magic Kids give a strong indication of what the listener should expect from their debut album, Memphis. There’s little darkness or abstraction to be found on this record, nor is one likely to find any noise, drones or heavy layers of synthesizer. No sir, this is pop music, painted in the same bright palettes as the candy and superballs Magic Kids sing about, yet bolstered by some truly gorgeous melodies and arrangements. And it’s an absolute delight.
Magic Kids, who indeed hail from Memphis, Tenn., craft their own lush and unique teenage symphonies to God, and with more than a subtle nod to the Beach Boys at that. Yet while Magic Kids’ tunes are rife with lovely orchestration, it’s not so much the songwriting of Pet Sounds they recall so much as the Beach Boys’ earlier girl-chasing, beach-going singles. Such a thing is rare in an age when the de facto reference of choice is Surf’s Up, but Magic Kids seem less concerned with cool than with writing a stellar melody, and Memphis is positively overflowing with them.
The giddy and gleeful singles “Superball” and “Hey Boy” preceded the album, and have returned on the album, rightfully claiming their spots among the album’s highlights. The former is a high-speed projectile that stays true to its title, bouncing up and down through the force of its string swells and chintzy-but-lovable keyboard sounds. The latter, meanwhile, inflates the reverb behind refrains of “my steady girl,” reinforcing the idea of the band as a group of anachronistic, fun-loving pop troubadours.
Yet while the songwriting and arrangements of Magic Kids’ early singles set a high benchmark, the band’s uncanny, almost irrationally catchy songwriting abilities maintain that sugar-rush high throughout the album’s all-too-brief 28 minutes. The sing-song bounce of “Phone Song” is practically begging to become an advertising jingle, while the stunning “Candy” reveals further depth to the group’s pop jones, layering male and female vocals, horns, strings and a build that swells toward a mighty, marching climax. The slow, strummy “Hideout” is one of the few instances in which Magic Kids opt for Pet Sounds over Surfin’ USA. And on “Skateland,” the group even steps on the fuzzbox, albeit after a twinkling, string-laden intro, which should serve as the entrance music for the band’s own amusement park, should they ever choose to construct one in the image their music inhabits.
To borrow a pair of phrases from the Apples in Stereo, a band with which Magic Kids shares a lot in common, Memphis is a fun trick noisemaker, and a new magnetic wonder. These 11 songs are silly but highly enjoyable confections, the kind of pop record that can bring a smile to any listener’s face and, for that matter, would only take a couple spins to win a special place in his heart. Memphis isn’t especially complex or subversive, but that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes, the best pop music doesn’t have to be.
Apples In Stereo – Tone Soul Evolution
The Beach Boys – Today!
Beulah – When Your Heartstrings Break
MP3: “Hey Boy”
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.