November 07, 2003

Piano Magic "Speed the Road, Rush the Lights"

Piano Magic, 4AD's latest ex, could have been their saving grace. When they released Son Del Mar, their debut for the label, I predicted that Piano Magic could be the band that could revitalize their then-sagging roster, but sadly the relationship failed after the release of last year's Writers Without Homes. It's hard to figure out, though, why Writers Without Homes failed. Perhaps it's because the band who had previously made records that were generally unclassifiable had suddenly made a record that sounded like a Piano Magic record. Some bands don't do well when they refine and define their sound. Thus, this little three-song EP on a tiny Spanish label may seem like a big step down from the glory of 4AD, but what makes it even more irksome is the fact that Speed the Road, Rush The Lights is a major step UP from Writers Without Homes.

"Speed the Road, Rush the Lights" starts things off with a menacing beat that's made more despondant by a keyboard-driven orchestra, throwing the song back to that era of post-punk music that we lovingly called 1984. Reminscent of Cindytalk, on this song Piano Magic comes close to sounding utterly Goth, were it not for Glen Johnson's spoken-sung vocals. The next song, "Paulette," it s a pretty, albeit rather brief, guitar and viola interlude, similar in style to Son Del Mar, and it nicely links the two epic songs together (the other two songs are over seven minutes long).

"Luxemborg Gardens" is the real winner of the lot, though. Starting with spooky, haunting operatic singing, it then creeps into a loud drone, tempered with a very sad guitar part, which then gives way to the singing. A haunting blend of male/female vocals, it is a melding of the distant and familiar, the haunting and the deranged. Angele David-Guillou sings like Bjork if Bjork was from Eartu and Glen Johnson sounds like an obsessed Jason Lytle, who follows her singing with the disturbing line "Don't you ever go home." It's creepy, it's cringeworthy, it makes you uneasy, it makes you a little bit paranoid--in other words, it's vintage Piano Magic!

Speed the Road, Rush the Lights is evidence that Writers Without Homes was merely a misstep. Too bad that it cost them their relationship with 4AD; the pairing should have been perfect. Still, it's good to know that life goes on, and Piano Magic have not yet begun to fight; though they've reached peaks other bands only dream of, I firmly believe that they've yet to put out their best record.

--Joseph Kyle

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