Review Summary: I am a mercurial girl
I rate my mercurial friends and so should you. They are the gang, potentially edgy but largely authentic people whom I love unreasonably even when they do unexpected things and/or flake on me. However, they’re often not the ones you or I call on when in true dire need of the grave shit that people ultimately need friends for. They aren’t good friends or bad friends; they are mercurial friends. By a similar token, LA trendpop duo Magdalena Bay’s glossy debut is as concertedly mercurial as any concertedly ~pop~ record you’ll hear this year; it’s easy as anything to fix your ears on while it’s on, but not necessarily something you’ll want as a permanent fixture on your radar. It’s shiny, it’s indie, it’s norm, it’s aerobically prone to twisting into shiny indie-norm forms that you weren’t expecting or even sure that you particularly wanted, and (for a while) it’s fun - - - and then suddenly it isn’t. It’s a mercurial world, alright.
Perhaps admirably, M- Me- Muh- Muhrcurial World
foregrounds its strong suits to the point of insistence, and so we must respond in kind: there are, uh, a lot
of striking elements on show here, chiefly in production and arrangement, almost all of which are at least somewhat attractive: every time the duo change from one Thing to another Thing, you bet there’ll be a flash of hyperslick shimmer-shimmer surprise to it, whether it’s a barrage of electro-bubblegum twazzle (“Follow The Leader”) or simply a tasty new chord (just get a whiff of the progression on “Chaeri”). And yet, there’s more than moment-to-moment novelty at work here: the album’s greatest triumph comes in the way it negotiates a dizzying yet clearly cohesive blend of palettes like a puddle-kaleidoscope of retrofuturist wet dreams. Its malleable foundation of ‘80s synth stylings are refracted through a range of lenses including city pop-inflected disco (“Secrets (Your Fire)”), bubblegum-inflected disco (“Dawning of the Season”), neo-soul (“Prophecy”), glittery house (“Hysterical Us”), and Grimes-esque warpings of darker rock vocabulary (“Domino”); every guise is quick to give way to another, and you won’t have heard it all until the literal last minute.
Seem like a lot? The duo certainly flaunt it, but they have a shrewd sense for contrast and compatibility when it comes to pivoting from one set of tones to another. There’s a natural overlap between their respective ballparks to begin with, and on the instrumental end, this finds itself rather smoothly borne out in well-constructed arrangements, glossy production and songwriting just about mobile enough to melt the album’s generous levels of kitsch together into something chameleonic. “Dreamcatching” is one of the smoothest examples of this, easing from silky verses to pulsing synth hooks in its chorus to a bass-heavy percussive bridge with enough fluidity that its various tricks and twists hardly clash as such. They’re certainly distinct
, to a certain degree, but they’re individually unextravagant and tightly segued in a way that smacks of service to the song. In this way, the album tends away from biting off more than it can chew. The duo can do many things. Yes they c
Okay drop the fucking sextant, there’s an elephant in the room!? Although Magdelrium World are adept at layering synthesised LA gloss over shrewdly imagined popgressions, this all too frequently feels like a smokescreen for underwhelming vocals, dull hooks and an almost suspicious absence of personality. I wish there was a more nuanced way to express this beyond unthankfully scapegoating Magdalena baywatcher-singer Mica Tenenbaum as the weakest 50% of the group, but weigh up how disproportionately the album’s underwhelming facets stem from her tepid melodies and listless delivery, and her case looks less than promising. There’s really no way around having an engaging, or at least engagingly layered, vocalist if you’re making this kind of synth-pop. Tenenbaum sticks to a B-tier dream pop register, coasting off the back of vaporious melodies that rarely pan out as particularly engaging hooks. The highlight track “You Lose!” sees her buck the trend here, laying down a rousing chorus with enough conviction behind it to stick around beyond its playtime, but in the majority of these songs her performance is either overly ephemeral (“Mercurial World”), overshadowed by otherwise fantastic instrumentals (“Chaeri”), or outright ill-stylised: the bitcrushed verses on “Domino” sound like they were recorded from the wrong side of a wall soundproofed with the compressed bodies of not-defuzzed dead baby Pikachus, and the less said about “The Beginning”’s cheerleaders-sucking-helium finale mantra, the better.
Small halfhearted paragraph about how firing her isn’t the answer and the producer dude Lewin should have done more to make her sound better.
So, there you go: this album has good things and it also has bad things. They have been listed for your benefit. Great. Is there any more to it? Not really; honestly, in my listening experience and admittedly unenthused attempts at analysis alike, I’ve struggled to do much more than parse it - it’s rare to find an album that presents such a whirl of sound and vision while evoking so little in return. Those qualities pos. and neg. sit circumstantially alongside each other like a mild-mannered duality without teasing remotely enough vim to amount to an active dialectic; many things happen, but don’t you go in expecting synergy.
Cool - no, not
cool! Not cool at all. Where is the fuckin’ kick?! This is a synth-pop album that teases huge thrills at every corner yet somehow does little beyond make me want to shuffle like some kind of xanax zombie (inwardly hollow, outwardly mysteriously tasteful). I wanted to enjoy it, but, woe o woe, it has done little but make me feel less of whatever I wanted to feel to begin with. What on earth is the point of being wondrously palatable and dazzlingly eclectic if there’s no hard-facts pop gratification to be had along the way? This record was born out of a few well-realised ideas (and some other stuff also), yet it’s succeeded
by virtue of algorithmic netbuzz catered to the most anemic of poptimists. A plague on all your houses - but not on Magdalena Bay’s: they are talented and will one day make a good record. Mercurial Bay
is bland and overpolished and probably insecure and definitely destined to make mincemeat of fickle hearts all over the web. It is good and shiny like an overviewed but freshly refiltered Instagram photo of a Hollywood sunset. Fuck off and enjoy it while it lasts.