February 07, 2003

Magic 12 "high"

People watch Japanese films--especially B-movies--in part for the out-of-sync sound track. Lips moving but the words already spoken. It's kind of funny to watch conversations happening after they've happened. That's the general feeling I had when listening to High, the newest full-length from Boston-based Magic 12.

I like the music. Hell, the music is downright beautiful in places, and never falls short of being interesting. but the vocals just don't seem right. At times, it sounds like a scratch track, other times, it sounds like they're in two different rooms. This is a problem that really hinders the music--the vocals stick out way too much; they hide the music that's going on behind them, and, really, his voice, while strong, just doesn't work together so high up in the mix. At times, they're winsome, other times, such as on the should-have-been-left-off "40 Winks," they're terrible. These problems would be easily overlooked were the vocals and the music mixed better, and all of the hooks that the songs would have had are hidden by the overwhelming vocal track.

I really think that Ingalls' main flaw isn't that he can't sing, but he just hasn't found a style that works for him. At times, I'm thinking he's trying to go for a Morrissey/Bryan Ferry style, but itjust doesn't work for him. I think these problems stem directly from the mix. A voice should stand out, but it should also mix in with the band, forming a whole, cohesive song. Maybe, this kind of creamy singing doesn't quite gel with the kind of music he's working with--slightly moody rock with a country tint. Ingalls' singing is technically good, but it just doesn't work here. He's singing a lush, dark pop style over music that's not suited to such a style.

This is a problem that I'm hoping will be fixed when they work on their next record. I feel kind of bad, because it's not bad; (believe me, I've heard much, much, much worse), it just doesn't seem right for High. Having such music veterans as bassist Pete Weiss and guitar god Rich Gilbert (Tanya Donnelly, Human Sexual Response, Frank Black & The Catholics) also makes these problems even more upsetting, too. High hints at heights that aren't reached here. "Could be" is a swear word to me, and I just feel like Magic 12 could be a lot better; everything's in place, but things just don't really seem to click--at least not for me.

Perhaps Magic 12 should work on making music that fits Ingalls' vocal styles. When he's on, such as on the brief "Sadly Mistaken," he sounds like Bryan Ferry, and the band sounds great, too. In reading reviews for their past records, it became apparent that they've recently had some lineup changes, and I wonder if they've not completely gelled for the new lineup. I just feel that High is a case where the two main componants are excellently made, but they do not work together. I don't think that anyone is to fault for this, and maybe in a live setting these problems don't exist, because everything's working together.

I take that all back. I'm at a loss as to what to say about High. It's a good record, but it's not a perfect record; it's the sound of a band that's changing its style, but not quite succeeding. I listened to some of their earlier work, and something doesn't seem right. Apparently the main, cohesive factor in the band prior to High was Beth Heinberg, whose piano closed the gap between the two parties, and the band had a distinctive Mojave 3-style which was actually pretty darn good. She's gone, and in my opinion, THAT is the main factor that's holding the band back. It's hard for a band to lose a key member, and in Magic 12's case, it's an equally painful loss, as it's affected their sound in such a manner that's quite noticable.

So what's my final opinion of High? I don't really know. I'm certainly more forgiving now; in fact, I'm now wanting to hear more of their earlier stuff, because I'm not too sure about High. Like in court, sometimes one party wins, but sometimes the judge dismisses the case, because there's not enough evidence to clearly state which party should win or lose. I'd like to hear Magic 12's earlier work before rendering a final judgement on High, because I'm afraid I'm missing something.

--Joseph Kyle

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