In hindsight, with the passing release of Here We Go Magic’s sophomore effort and debut for Secretly Canadian, Pigeons, its reception among the music press that had hotly tipped it as the band’s breakthrough album now seems coolly anti-climactic. Following a quietly celebrated sleeper with last year’s self-titled record, an opening slot on Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest tour, and the triumphant jump to the Indiana-based indie super label, Here We Go Magic stood poised on the threshold of fulfilling the bubbling potential gurgling throughout frontman Luke Temple’s previous output. Yet with the glimpse into lead single “Collector” — all swirling washes of fuzzy, kaleidoscopic pop confetti — Temple and his cohorts seemingly peaked before sloping into a rather indifferent reaction from fans and critics alike, a puzzling response that provokes even further head-scratching after several months of absorption reveal Pigeons as a spangled hidden gem buried beneath 2010’s high profile releases.
Although Luke Temple hasn’t quite figured out how to self-edit his more tedious, ponderous ideas into statements with direction — resulting in a handful of momentum killers and hazily sprawling detours — even his more avant-garde experiments maintain an engaging sense of exploration that sidestep the pitfalls of some of the muddier, yawn-inducing workouts from 2009’s eponymous affair. Despite occasionally tripping over this ambitious insularity, it’s apparent throughout Pigeons that touring and further recording has tightened up the focus of Temple’s songwriting, carving immediate pop songs out of chunkier slabs of the looped psych that marked much of his earlier catalogue. Not only are the hooks sharper and structured seamlessly into the sparkling neon splashes of color that dress his tunes, but there’s a strong purposeful pull at the core of the best tracks that retains a freshness even after a dozen or more spins.
Not everything here hits so on-target, but when Temple delivers, he delivers so pointedly that it’s easy to overlook his shortcomings. On the aforementioned “Collector”, a bouncing melody marries a stuttering hiccup of a rhythm section to spinning, sweetly prickling guitar notes that help an extended coda achieve a hypnotic whimsy that rivals any single released this year. The languid “Casual” oozes a dreamy fluidity that buoys Temple’s pinched alto and airy harmonies into wafts of eerie elegance, while a steely, elastic bassline carries a driving hook on the dizzying “Old World United”.
When Temple softly coos “I was handsome in all the wrong places” at the outset of “Bottom Feeder” amidst a crest of shimmering strums and broken hearts, we may not understand his plight entirely, but it’s a rather apt encapsulation of the highs and lows scattered throughout Pigeons. Its variety sometimes works against itself, while elsewhere providing some beautifully blissed-out pop. At first or second spin, capping off the record with the cheeky weirdness of “Vegetable or Native” and “Herbie I Love You, Now I Know” may be a jarring decision, but with deeper concentration its disarming capriciousness perfectly underlines a refreshing lack of artifice, leaving the listener feeling briskly charmed in its afterglow.
While a rabid indie scene may have been anticipating a greater statement from this eccentric bedroom project turned pro, the Brooklyn-based band gain in retrospect what they may have lost in a flurry of hype. Pigeons may not be the defining moment all the blog buzz hinted at, and Luke Temple may still have several rough patches to smooth out in his songwriting process, but with Here We Go Magic’s subtly enchanting second record, it sure is fun to listen to him work out the kinks.