November 21, 2001

Piano Magic "Seasonally Affective: A Piano Magic Retrospective 1996-2000"

"Too much of a good thing" is never a bad thing. Sure, there are consequences to overindulging in something that you like, but that neglects one thing: that the object in question is good. But, really, can you really have too much of a good thing? What does that mean exactly? That something good can become something bad, simply due to quantity?

On first appearance, Piano Magic's Seasonally Affective: 1996-2000 seems to be an excessive amount of a very good thing. Twenty-five tracks spanning two CDs, each running well over an hour each. Seems a bit much at first glance. Of course, such things are par for the course when you're a quietly prolific artist. Piano Magic has quietly been doing their thing since 1996, and this collection is Piano Magic's way of helping the fans to catch up with their sordid past.

For a record that's covering only a four year period, there sure were a lot of members of Piano Magic. Thirty-two, to be exact. The most famous would probably be Darren Hayman of Hefner, who served as vocalist on "There's No Need For Us To Be Alone." For the most part, Piano Magic's vocals are sung by women; Piano Magic mainman Glen Johnson doesn't step up to the microphone in this collection until disc two. I'll give Johnson credit for this; the rotating singers gives his songs layers, and helps prevent Piano Magic from becoming tedious or monotonous. Each vocalist has a different singing style that is quite distinct from the others; Raechel Leigh doesn't sing, but reads; Hazel Burfitt sings in a deceptively sweet little-girl voice; Jen Adams sings with a bit of a pitch in her voice, and Caroline Potter lifts her voice into ethereal strains. Glen Johnson's voice--slightly off pitch, with an obvious heavy British accent--also serves a nice contrast to both the lovely, electronic atmosphere and the angelic styles of his female vocalists.

Regardless of the vocalist and regardless of the musicians, you can certainly expect a blend of heady atmospherics and experimental playing around. Many, if not most, of these songs are long-ish in length, and, more often than not, contain instrumental passages that seem to create a song within a song. "The Biggest Lie," for example, contains a moody, brooding vocal by Glen Johnson, which ends with him screaming "Liar! Liar!" Song's over, right? Nope. That was only the first two minutes. The band fades out, then fades back in with a completely different melody, completely different tempo, and, generally a different song altogether. This is a common trait of most of the songs released on twelve inch format; one or two of the songs-within-a-song are even titled, such as the gorgeous "Wintersport/Cross Country."

Beneath all of the sonic tomfoolery, Glen Johnson writes some intelligently funny lyrics. From the death of Snoopy in the snow ("Wintersport/Cross Country") to "The Canadian Brought Us Snow," and the funny Christmas/love song "Sketch For Joanne," are but a few moments of lightheartedness. Looking at the cover, a bizarre children's game box with disturbing clown/jester images (is it French? I can't really tell) you sense that there's a bizarre, surreal, yet unconscious form of jest here at play...and it is. While Piano Magic's music is rather serious, the makers seem not to be, and the music, while very deep and atmospheric, can still produce a smile on the face, and a warm sense of joy.

Seasonally Affective 1996-2000 is a very heady, heavy platter of sonic goodness. Like a deli tray, there are many different kinds of good things available; it just depends on what you like. Piano Magic are a band that, like Hood, have quietly created a legacy, and whose future is all but guaranteed to produce beautiful recordings. Hell, even the weak moments on this collection are strong enough not to warrant pointing out; for, while they may seem weak with one listen, will strengthen with the next listen. Seasonally Affective: 1996-2000 is a collection that you shouldn't think about owning; you should own.

--Joseph Kyle

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