“I’m gonna do this like I know what I’m doing,” Magnet’s Even Johansen sings over a taut soft-pop rhythm and aerodynamic guitars, the insecurity of his lyric contradicting the glossy confidence of the song’s arrangement. Though Johansen may base his winning formula on an unassuming, aw-shucks demeanor, he’s really a mastermind at pushing O.C.-derived emotional buttons at opportune moments. Johansen’s pop music is painstakingly programmed to provoke desired emotional reactions; somewhere in the midst of its aching Technicolor choruses or layered flowerbed hushes, you’re meant to fall victim and swoon.
Johansen’s second album under the Magnet moniker, The Tourniquet, perpetrates these gooey sentimentalisms via a knockout combination of palpitating mid-tempo hooks and optimistic buzzwords. The important components of Magnet’s vocabulary are those words and phrases that brilliantly connect to its epically inclined pop songs: “hold on”, “believe”, and “take my hand” are but a few of the new album’s in-song reassurances. Johansen’s music is all about gearing up for that big moment of change or promise or uncertainty or release, and weathering it as needed. It’s exhaustingly sanguine stuff.
In nearly all respects, The Tourniquet is a veritable extension of Magnet’s 2004 release On Your Side. It would seem that a record with the title The Tourniquet would offer an edgier, perhaps darker, experience. In fact, the new album is even more accessible (if also even more leisurely paced) than its predecessor: nearly every song sports a melody that dramatically lunges for the jugular of populism’s soft spots, clamoring for the corner of that emotional market ravaged by other opti-pop bands like Coldplay and Keene. Itchy electronic twitches compliment the organic banjo plucking on the album-opening “Hold On”, the prototypical windswept Magnet anthem (“You’ll get through this if you hang on / ‘Cause the truth is you’re not alone,” Johansen calmly comforts in the song’s innocuous tempest of a chorus). Pieces of melodic shrapnel patiently flutter and skirt around the pungent atmospheres of “Duracelia” and “The Pacemaker”. “This Bird Can Never Fly” (a bonus track included on the U.S. release only) wavers between spaced-out airiness and bloated balladeering, the kind of sentimental force-feed that has to be fully accepted before it can be enjoyed.
For the majority of the album, the Norwegian Johansen is joined by Californian multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Jason Falkner, who provides a sympathetic textural presence on drums, keyboards, and guitars. The album’s warm production recalls OK Computer-era Radiohead; songs like the calloused and cautious “Blow by Blow” and the resigned “Deadlock” incorporate chiming electric guitar arpeggios, buoyant rhythm patterns, and ghostly backing vocals that echo that band’s once-radio friendly ballads. For all of its accessibility and open-ended melodicism, however, The Tourniquet offers few moments of sustainable substance. For every promising track like “Blow by Blow” is a clichéd dud like the sappy paunch of “Miss Her So”. Johansen is good at what he does—perhaps too good. By the time The Tourniquet is halfway over, the tricks of his trade are fully exposed. After all, you can only pull emotional strings for so long before they tear and fray.