June 09, 2005

Piano Magic "Disaffected"

Piano Magic is the long-running project of Glen Johnson. Over the past nine years, he's released dozens of singles, EP's and compilation appearances, six full length albums on various record labels with nearly as many band lineups. Their revolving-door membership and melancholy music reminded many of This Mortal Coil, the flagship project of the critically acclaimed 4AD label. It's quite astonishing, then, that Piano Magic's brief relationship with the label turned out so unsatisfactory. The Son De Mar film soundtrack was promising, but Writers Without Homes was a surprising disappointment. Piano Magic recovered quickly, though, and their response to their worst album was to release their best album, The Troubled Sleep of Piano Magic.

Disaffected finds Johnson and company continuing further down the Piano Magic path. After nine years, one expects certain things from Piano Magic, and Johnson and company have yet to disappoint. The songs on Disaffected have an added depth that hasn't appeared before--is it possible they've become content with their lot in life? Has Johnson resigned himself to permanant heartbreak? Yes, they're still melancholy--just check out the bleak outlook of "Disaffected" and "I Must Leave London" for proof. Yes, their music is still cinematic--"You Can Hear The Room" and "Your Ghost" are minor epics to the coldness of life.. Yes, they're heartbroken--check out "Theory of Ghosts" and "Deleted Scenes" for futher examination of the heart of someone who's had their love gone wrong. Most importantly, they're still good. In fact, they're more than good...they're better.

Indeed, Disaffected flows quite well; it's a long, continual symphony to sadness. Songs like "Deleted Scenes" and "You Can Never Get Lost (When You've Nowhere To Go)" have the ability to bring you back over and over again, but "Love & Music" quickly becomes a favorite. Though it's the closest that Disaffected comes to having a happy song, it's easily one of their best moments. It's rather upbeat, and the lyrics--about being sixteen and feeling love for the first time. The music itself sounds like New Order--a lot like New Order, in fact. Johnson sounds not unlike Bernard Sumner, and the music sounds as if it was accidentally created by Peter Hook circa 1986. In other words, it's a class act, but it's also uniquely poppy and addictive. It's no surprise, considering that Piano Magic have always been indebted to the early to mid 1980s British underground scene.

In a world where bands like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol (both destined to be one-hit wonders, if truth be told) take superficial inspiration from the past, it's good to know that a band like Piano Magic can draw from the same well of inspiration without resorting to unceremonious (and trendy) plundering. Disaffected is a wonderful continuation of Piano Magic's greatness. True, it doesn't sound radically different from past Piano Magic records, but if this is the sound of formulaic, then may they never again rock the boat.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.piano-magic.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

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