Psst! Hey kids, wanna hear something so creaky and garage-y that it sounds like it could have come out of the ‘60s surf-rock scene? Wanna hear a band that namechecks David Cronenberg’s best film in song (and that would be Videodrome)? Wanna hear a singer that is such a dead ringer for Brian Wilson in the mid-‘60s that you would be forgiven for thinking a band had gone back in time and kidnapped the Beach Boys singer to augment their reverence for all things Californian? Wanna hear a band with a such a sense of humour that they actually have a song titled “I’m Gonna Hang Out With the Lesbians Next Door and Drop Acid”? Well, have I got the band for you! San Diego’s Mrs. Magician has made a debut album in Strange Heaven that is so strong and powerful that any of its 13 songs could be a candidate for a single. Yes, they’ve got that throwback sound that has been already successfully mined by bands like The Hives, Best Coast, and, to a certain extent, Cults, but they plumb into the genre with a great deal of success, effectively blowing much of their competition out of the water. I mention Cults because this band is about to go on tour with them this spring, and I would be worried if I were Brian Oblivion (and, hey, isn’t that a character in Videodrome?) and Madeline Follin because Mrs. Magician certainly has the deft chops, at least in recorded form, to potentially blow them out of the water.
Mrs. Magician’s sound is so backward-looking that it even apes the song lengths of the best rock songs of the mid-‘60s: Not one song on Strange Heaven eclipses the three-minute mark, and not one is shorter than two minutes. So what you get are compact, peppy blasts of retro-infused nostalgia for a simpler time, when women were girls and men were busy waxing their surf boards and catching waves. And, as noted above, lead singer Jacob Turnbloom is such a Brian Wilson sound-a-like – at least, when Brian Wilson’s voice wasn’t destroyed by age and decades of neglect – that you can’t help but compare the band to the best surf singles of The Beach Boys. In fact, you could say that Mrs. Magician is all about “Fun, Fun, Fun” since listening to Strange Heaven is a bit of a blast. Sure, there’s the odd morbid lyric (“You’re all gonna die / Does it make you wanna cry?” goes a line on “There’s No God”), but Strange Heaven isn’t really an album with a lyric sheet you’re going to spend a lot of time scrutinizing. That’s not to say that the guys in Mrs. Magician aren’t capable wordsmiths, but the overall feeling is one of goofiness – mixed in with the slightest hint of dread, per “Nightlife”, the first song on the album – and the album deftly mixes the dark with the light to create a highly addictive sound. Of course, Mrs. Magician is hardly an originator, but, kids, who cares? You’ll get lost in the grooves of this record (and if there was ever a case for an album being released on vinyl, this would be it) and use it as a background soundtrack for time spent slathering sunscreen on yourself at the beach this summer.
As noted, the album is loaded with a bevy of great songs-cum-potential-singles, deftly kept from going too far into the red by capable producer John Reis, a member of Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt, Night Marchers, and Drive Like Jehu. There’s also the very occasional curveball in the form of a song like “Heaven” (And, yes, I’m not sure if we need another song with that title after the Talking Heads and the Psychedelic Furs, let alone Bryan Adams, Warrant, and 1,032,348 other bands who have used it), which is a slowed down, ‘60s girl group-type jam with luscious vibraphones taking centre stage. There’s the dashing “Videodrome”, which offers a creepy descending minor chord progression along with a shimmery break in the middle of the song that comes out of nowhere like a mirage. When Turnbloom offers on “Dead ‘80s” that you should “Fuck the world / Fuck the law / Fuck the kids / They have it all”, in uncharacteristically non-‘60s fashion, you might find yourself singing along. “Prescription Vision” even offers addictive “whoa-whoa-whoa-a-whoa"s stolen straight from Wilson’s songbook. The album ends with the tongue-in-cheek “You Can’t Be My Man”, in which Turnbloom wishes he were a sailor to meet all of the girls on the beach, even if they apparently all reject his advances. Turnbloom’s falsetto is the focus throughout these songs, sometimes leaping octaves as he does on “There’s No God”, leaving you utterly slack-jawed.
All in all, does Strange Heaven reinvent the wheel? No, it does not. However, is it an album with catchy hooks and paisley coloured hues? Yes. Yes, it is. With Strange Heaven, Mrs. Magician simply writes all killer and no filler, keeping things to a brief, just-barely-over-30-minutes runtime; as a result, the album feels remarkably whole. Their sound might be rooted in genres and times in the distant past, but they write engrossing and invigorating songs that light up the retro-garage scene and seem less sentimental than honest and reverential. There’s a little bit of fuzziness to these songs, but they’re not so gauzy that they aren’t clean and refreshing; they bridge the gap between the sonics of the ‘60s and the production values of modern indie-rock. All of these songs, despite the occasional profanity and skewed lyrical content, could have come out of surf rock’s heyday, and possibly could have been bona fide hits. Whether or not Mrs. Magician will catch on with the masses who might be a little fatigued with this sort of thing is one point (see: the declining commercial fortunes of The Hives during the latter half of the 2000s, for starters), but Strange Heaven is a punchy, mostly upbeat (with a pinch of creepiness) album that’s very nearly the perfect source for summer jams. So, kids, if this is the sort of thing that sounds up your alley, you could certainly do no worse than to check out the strange and demented magic I have hidden in the pocket of my trench coat. Be sure to tell all your friends: Mrs. Magician is the real deal in a B.S.-riddled music world.