Music

Cuddle Magic: Info Nympho

The album has its moments, but none more powerful than when it considers the ramifications of suicide.


Cuddle Magic

Info Nympho

Label: FYO
US Release Date: 2012-03-06
Amazon
iTunes

“I can’t write a song with Vic Chesnutt gone,” goes the very opening line to the first track of Brooklyn/Philadelphia chamber pop collective Cuddle Magic’s third album, Info Nympho, but the song is more than just a moving ode to the late American singer-songwriter who died by his own hand. The song, “Disgrace Note”, is a touching, melancholic and troubling elegy to a variety of historical figures or entertainers who have all committed suicide. From jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler to poet Richard Brautigan to actress and fashion model Margot Hemingway to author David Foster Wallace to photography pioneer George Eastman, the song longingly and depressively namechecks a wide raft of celebrities who have succumbed to their own inner demons.

It’s a stark way to start off an album, given the macabre subject matter, but the song is moving -- a tribute, in many respects, to remembering those who simply lost the will to live. “Disgrace Note” mourns the empty hole left by these very talented individuals, and laments the artistic and cultural loss that the evils of taking your own life has, not just on friends and loved ones but to the artistic community as a whole. Granted, the song dips itself into a morbid fascination with the subject matter -- “Nikki Bacharach in a plastic bag / Phil Loeb never rose from his overdose”, etc. -- but there’s a lazy feeling of hope that permeates the song, whose melody borderlines on the uplifting thanks to its soulful jazz-based backing. Recalling the work of Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens, at least in its most orchestrated moments, “Disgrace Note” isn’t much of a disgrace. It’s simply a song that causes one to pause and reflect. And it is the very best thing about Info Nympho, which careens unevenly from the sublime to the silly. How silly? Well, how ‘bout having a song named “Moby Dickless” for starters, if not a song simply about hoarding material goods?

Info Nympho was lovingly recorded using nothing but analog equipment (the vinyl LP version was even mastered in analog), and it is the result of a grassroots Internet campaign where the band was able to raise more than $10,000 to finalize the making of the album after soliciting donations online. You get this sense that this is an album that was funded by the fans and made for the fans – without a great deal of consideration to actually, you know, winning over new fans. Case in point: there’s a bit of recycling on Info Nympho, probably meant to best reward those who have followed the career trajectory of the various band members. Bridget Kearney, who also plays bass in both Boston’s lounge jazzy Lake Street Dive and the bluegrassy Joy Kills Sorrow, contributes the song “Jason” here. The thing is, the song has already appeared on This Unknown Science, the 2011 album from Joy Kills Sorrow, where it gets a more nimbly guitar-picking arrangement. The version of “Jason” on Info Nympho is actually inferior, partly because those who have followed Kearney, like me, have probably already worn out the Joy Kills Sorrow version, and you can’t really improve on the mournful near perfection of that take. Additionally, the arrangement here is just too, well, clever. It lurches and stops and starts, and is meant to be meaningful and pensive, but it actually doesn’t go anywhere.

Speaking of cleverness, the lyrics on Info Nympho range from ingenious (let’s invoke “Disgrace Note” again here) to too-cunning-for-their-own-good. For instance, “Autobiographies” gets bogged down in some silly nonsensical wordplay: “Singing ballads / To my salad / Isn’t valid / Getting paged / While on stage / Makes me age.” This is strange because the song, which comes more than midway through the album, makes it seem like Cuddle Magic don’t really have much to say, which seems unlikely given the relative strength of that aforementioned opening track. Part of the problem might be that Cuddle Magic lists 10 members as being in the band in the liner notes, and there are multiple songwriters in the group. Cuddle Magic, thus, is a bit of a democracy, which means that the lesser ideas tend to sometimes flow through and there’s a real “anything goes” kind of attitude to the haphazard and ropey nature of the arrangements.

While Info Nympho can sometimes come across as trite and too cute, the individual parts make up for the lack of a greater whole. The band is co-ed, with male and female singers, which creates some valid opportunities for gorgeous harmonies here and there from dueting genders. The songs on the latter half of the record also rise above some of the attempts at showcasing musical muscle and agility (see “Jason”) that plague the first half. And, on a completely unrelated note, there’s also a certain mellow vibe to the record, which creates a sense of pleasantry for those who think that jazzy pop should go down as smooth as a girlie drink. However, given the number of musicians the band is working with and the collective talents of each and every one of them, Info Nympho also could have been a lot stronger.

Still, for those who miss the celebratory jazz pop of mid-period Sufjan, the album will do the trick in a jiffy. It’s just that there is so much potential to be found here, and it’s a little too bad that the rest of the album didn’t follow the lead of “Disgrace Note” in marrying quality songcraft and musicianship. Info Nympho seems like a bit of a riddle, in both title and how it unfurls in a rather lumpy fashion. It is an album of pieces that don’t quite always fit together, but you can’t help but admire the possibilities. At its best, Info Nympho is an arty album that doesn’t sidestep having hummable songs. At its worst, Info Nympho is a bit pretentious or even downright inane. Which is to say that making an album full of songs as wonderfully emotional as “Disgrace Note” is something Cuddle Magic should work towards. With its filler, failed lyrical ambitions and reused material, Info Nympho seems more like a band not sure what the next step is, which is all the more ironic when you consider that the album really is at its early peak when it dwells and wool-gathers about the implications of quitting. The album has its moments, but none more powerful than when it considers the ramifications of suicide. And it does so rather gracefully, if not almost masterfully.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.