Review Summary: Shimmering in the shadows
Three years ago, Typhoon released Offerings
. The expansive, bombastic record showcased the band at their most ambitious, weaving a story set somewhere in between past and future, occasionally brushing the present, and covering desperation through the intimate lens of memory loss. The album hit like a ton of bricks upon release and has lost none of its impact over time. It invites listeners into a dark world that provides as much of an instantly enjoyable sonic endeavour as it does one which leaves its mysteries to be uncovered as time passes, reflecting its very themes in the listening experience. Now, without any announcements beforehand, the band have put out Sympathetic Magic
. And it’s very good.
Of course, there is much more to the new album, but Typhoon were always going to have a hard time following up Offerings
. How do you move on from something that massive, that impactful? Trying to go bigger would likely have resulted in something unnecessarily self-indulgent, and potentially boring. Instead, the band opted for quietly releasing Sympathetic Magic
out of the blue: a gentle, relatively straightforward indie folk affair. It might just be the best move the band could have made (does surprise-releasing a more simplistic album following a, uh, prog folk masterpiece sound like a familiar shore to arrive at?), because, while it doesn’t reach previous heights, this album is a truly excellent foray into a more grounded apocalyptic world: one where, occasionally, beauty may be found in between the contrasted cracks.
The opening lines of ‘Sine Qua Nonentity’ display this slight change of pace right as the record takes its first breath. Instead of basking in the unreliability of fractured memories, vocalist Kyle Morton exclaims that ”You know what to look for”
. This clarity is retained throughout the record, replacing uncertainty and dissociation with guaranteed bleakness. This results in some unexpectedly hilarious moments; inducing the kind of genuine, twisted laughter that can only erupt among collective gloom. ‘Empire Builder’ manages to follow up a violin-meets-guitar meltdown with wistful, deceptively bright chants of ”Everybody’s angry / Everybody’s lonely”
. Typhoon tap into this odd brand of catchy again on the opening lines of ‘Masochist Ball’, where wishes of torture are delivered so earnestly it’s hard not to feel slightly confused. Thankfully, this sense of confusion is turned into a delightful one as the melodies ingrain themselves into your brain and the oddly cheerful horns kick in: ah, f*ck it, you might as well join the potentially misplaced despair and sing along.
Yet, Sympathetic Magic
truly thrives off its ability to contrast the more unsettlingly ‘funny’ moments with ones of pure brightness and ominousness. ‘Two Birds’ is carried by an off-kilter rhythm, beautifully layered vocals and an overall eerie sensation that is contrasted with the soaring self-awareness of its lyricism. Morton explicitly indicates his uncertainty regarding the way ‘it’ feels, culminating in the statement that the pain can finally, truly be felt - without interference of failing memory or the delicate destruction of history. This clarity is complemented by Typhoon’s trademark violins, gorgeously intersecting with the complex guitar work and elevating the back half of the song. Elsewhere, the interlude ‘Santos’ should not be passed off as ‘merely an interlude’, as it pulls one of Sympathetic Magic
’s hardest, most immediate punches. In 29 seconds, it describes the process of a small boy draining his blood into a washing machine: “How it made your blood clean / And put it all back in your tiny body
”. The band seem to brush over the song and subject matter, leaving a terrifying snippet of the story to linger as the record continues.
The album’s best song, ‘Room Within the Room’, provides a similar contrast in a gorgeously shimmering shell. The guitars are gentle, floating on top of a calming haze, with Morton attempting to find beauty and hope within its claustrophobic framework. “Anything you needed / Anything at all / In the room within the room / I will be there with you
”. It’s longing, it’s intense, elegantly inserting a sense of defeat into the simple, sweet sentiment. The song stands out because it differs in presentation while retaining a similar approach to the rest of Sympathetic Magic
, without detracting from the overall experience. Rather impressively, it thus manages to highlight both the strengths of the entirety of the album as well as Typhoon’s ability to stun unexpectedly.
While Sympathetic Magic
may have an incredibly hard time avoiding back-handed compliments and will likely always live in the shadows of Offerings
, it should not be dismissed as a weak record. While the average song length may be a mere three minutes, the record intentionally takes less time to deliver its message. As such, it’s a more digestible affair, likely to draw listeners in with pleasant indie folk melodies before contrasting this with straightforward, unadulterated eeriness. As ‘Welcome to the Endgame’ finishes the record on another high note, it is evident that Typhoon have found clarity. This clarity may not be pretty, it may not be something anyone would ever wish for, but it is what we all have to deal with, and Sympathetic Magic
handles it a whole lot better than most of us (could have hoped for).