[17 February 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Ever wonder what music would sound like if a musician went backpacking across the world, making sounds along the way, with little more to offer him or her solace than a copy of the House of Balloons mixtape and maybe a Thievery Corporation album in their iPod? Enter Young Magic, a trio whose debut album Melt was stitched together from material recorded in no less than 10 countries and included stops in such majestic places such as Rio De Janeiro, London, Antwerp, Rome, Berlin, Mexico City and Reykjanesbær, among others. Sounds like it would be a diffuse and eclectic compilation of music, no? Well, alas, Melt comes out of the wringer being about as sterile and clinical sounding as a basic visit to your dentist for a routine check-up. Despite its infusion of hip-hop, r ‘n’ b, soul, electronica, Western African tribal sounds and others, what results in the kitchen sink is a largely tepid and boring travelogue across a glacial and downtempo soundscape that offers little in variety or abstraction.
Let’s put it this way, Melt is a good album if you’re too cheap to go backpacking yourself across various continents and want someone else to bring back photos of their own journeys for you, are looking for something light and fluffy (and yet sensual) to provide low background music while having candlelit sex, or if you want to listen to world music filtered through slow electronic breakbeats without the pesky annoyance of having someone singing in a foreign and alien language. In fact, the aforementioned Thievery Corporation were doing something sort of along Melt’s lines, just a bit more of a lounge cadence and a sense of cool, and did it best, wait for it, more than a decade ago. Melt might try to be a sort of update to The Mirror Conspiracy, but utterly falls flat doing so.
It turns out that the backstory behind Melt’s making is far, far more interesting than most of the stuff the trio has committed to tape. In 2010, Australian singer and producer Isaac Emmanuel went travelling across the world, and found his way throughout Europe, then over to New York City and then down into Mexico. In Mexico, Emmanuel found himself in correspondence with fellow Australian expat Michael Italia, who had been also travelling around Europe and South America, and happened to have portable recording gear on him. They met up again in New York, where they had a mutual friend named Melati Malay, an Indonesian-born vocalist who was also making recordings. In early 2011, the three friends wound up recording together and Melt was essentially born out of the sounds that Emmanuel and Italia had found whilst on their sojourns.
Melt does start out nicely enough, with the dreamy “Sparkly”, which has a video that has time-lapse footage of clouds rolling and forming—apt, because the song is rich on atmospherics and haze, and one would imagine based on its chilly tones and haunting vocals that the song was inspired by the trip to Iceland. Similarly, the follow-up track “Slip Time” is a slowed down piece of electro with jug band beats, and with its sampled shrieks is an agreeable stab at pseudo-R&B. “You With Air” continues on in that vien, and is a slightly more uptempo piece that brings in a hip-hop influence in the vocals. However, from there there’s a sense of the familiar; it’s just more of the same with very little in variance. It isn’t until you get into the back end of the album and the song “Sanctuary” that you prick up your ears again with its gentle chimes and enchanting slow jam feel. What’s inbetween, basically, is a lot of filler that offers very little in thrills. Chills, maybe, but no thrills.
It’s intriguing that Melt is being released on Carpark, the former home to the frigid keyboard dream pop of Beach House. The latter band wound up getting sampled by the Weeknd on two of the House of Balloons tracks, and Young Magic, at times, apes the sound and lyrical intonation of one Abel Tesfaye, particularly on “You With Air” and “Sanctuary”. So there’s a heck of a lot of swapping of influences going on here, but that also means that Melt feels that it has come a little too late to the party—you’d heard this all somewhere else before, arguably done better.
Melt, while far from being a retched album, is simply average: it is at worst dull and pedantic, particularly during the record’s mid-section, which offers up the glacial beats to a point where you can close your eyes and imagine someone painting their house white. Meaning: Melt is often just vanilla sounding. This is actually a bit of a shame, considering how the record was made, and the opportunity the band had to synthesize influences from various cultures and make something truly dynamic. Alas, Melt was made for chill-out rooms, the sort of thing to be played solely in the background as to not to overtly distract someone coming down from a drug-induced state of ecstasy and bliss. There might be some appeal in that for various individuals, especially those who don’t like to be challenged by the music they listen to, but, for the rest of us, Young Magic have dealt us something that isn’t remotely magical in the least. Melt might be an affable release from a band still plying its trade, but, given the circumstances, it’s just a darn shame that the album offers little more that clip-clop paced beats and the odd inflection of a foreign influence. In other words, Melt is missing something: an actual heart. And maybe you can go one step further and say that the LP lacks something else more vital and important: with the exception of the odd track here and there, actual songs worth caring about.