With Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich at the helm, Here We Go Magic have basically turned in the album that the former band should have made immediately following In Rainbows.
Brooklyn's Here We Go Magic is a band that has been growing, physically and sonically. Originally a project for folk songwriter Luke Temple to have a brand name associated with his Shins meets Simon and Garfunkel approach to lo-fi songwriting, the "band" swelled to a five piece, released 2010's Pigeons, and is now expanding yet again by snagging Radiohead producer (credited sometimes as a sixth member of said group, such is his influence) Nigel Godrich to helm the production deck of their A Different Ship, the third album under the Here We Go Magic moniker. You may be wondering what Mob favour Temple and company had to pull in to get such an appreciated producer to work on an indie album, but the story goes that the band played the Glastonbury Festival in June 2010 deprived of sleep, but managed to perform well enough to impress both Godrich and Thom Yorke, who would later call the band his favourite of the festival, both of whom were in the front row during the set. Godrich would go on to see the band a few more times on tour in Europe, and then propose that he aid the group on their next release. Instant magic!
Well, I can say one thing with absolute certainty: Here We Go Magic have basically turned in the album that Radiohead should have made immediately following In Rainbows. It’s a tunefully, poppy affair, clearly influenced by '70s Krautrock, with a completely layered sound that invites you to peel away at it to get to all of its carefully structured secrets. And you listen to A Different Ship and have to wonder: how much has working with Radiohead influenced Godrich as a producer, or how much Radiohead has benefited the other way around? It's a puzzle, but one thing is clear: Godrich’s stamp of genius is all over A Different Ship.
Not that Here We Go Magic would have necessarily needed Godrich's help, per se, because the vast majority of songs to be found on the record reach the pinnacle of A-list indie rock material, twisting their way inside your head and staying there giddily. However, Godrich's touch is apparent in the twitchy, glitchy metronomic drumming of tracks such as "Hard to be Close" and first single "Make Up Your Mind", and the instruments are gently piled on top of each other without competing with each other for volume. A Different Ship's deck is so slippery slick that, if it were a real boat, you’d be falling down in the lurching current and unable to get back up. That isn't to say that the disc is overproduced: it is, in fact, so properly produced that it gives most of the ten songs (including a brief minute-long introductory track) a full body, going down as perfectly as an expensive bottle of fine red. In fact, if A Different Ship had a taste, it would be one of sheer ambrosia. Clearly, Godrich's hand adds a certain extra spice to the proceedings, and elevates the sheer peerless nature of the songcraft to another level entirely. As a statement, records like this hardly come along as often as they should.
As noted earlier, the songwriting is on another plane far removed from the work of the band's influences, taking leaps and bounds above the competition. "Hard to be Close", the first proper song on the album, takes a folksy country guitar strum and Temple's expressive singing, reminiscent here of Johnny Cash, and gradually layers in other instrumentation, including some swaying drumming that brings to mind, yes, Phil Selway's more eclectic tendencies and signature style on latter day releases. If country-folk met dubstep, "Hard to be Close" would be a prime example of the newly invented genre. (Folkstep? Dubtry?) Follow-up "Make Up Your Mind" furthers the motorik ambitions of the album, featuring a repetitive chicken-scratch guitar hook lifted straight from Warren Zevon's "Nighttime in the Switching Yard", and sense of urgency that swiftly piles on through the expansive leveling of instruments, including a ghostly synth line and sweetly processed background female vocals during the chorus. It has all of the paranoid urgency of Radiohead, coated with dark, glossy, L.A.-style '80s synth pop to create something in a class of its own. "Alone But Moving" is the best song that Radiohead never wrote, and even the embedded chorus line "all I really need" harkens to a similarly titled song on In Rainbows. Decide amongst yourselves the deliberateness of that lyrical reference, but it would appear that Temple is simply paying homage and debt to one of the greatest bands of the past 20 years. Furthering that notion is the rubbery nature of "I Believe in Action", in which various guitar lines twist and turn amongst themselves like vines choking around the trunk of a tree, furthering the sense of experimental momentum that the best of Radiohead brings to mind.
The band only stumbles slightly when they are on the verge of crossing the finish line. The eight-minute long title track is endearing enough, with watery guitars that recall the Cure somewhere around Seventeen Seconds or Faith, but the track breaks down somewhere around the 4:40 mark and turns back on itself (quoting the introductory passage) into a sheer barrage of creaking white noise pulled from Wilco's infamous "Less Than You Think", though not quite as overbearing. Its sole purpose seems to be to level of the continuity of the second side with the first on the vinyl release – filler, in other words. Still, A Different Ship is a careening, exhilarating ride with highlight after highlight, enough to be more than forgiving for the band's very occasional excursion into the pretentious.
Though the echoes of some British band that made a couple of essential releases such as OK Computer and Kid A can be heard throughout the panorama of A Different Ship, the sound is compelling enough to warrant that Here We Go Magic are their own entity, one that has great deal of, well, magic to offer to listeners with ears glued to the speaker cones. An entry of the almost highest order, A Different Ship is really a jet ski in disguise: these songs practically zoom into your consciousness and stick, encompassing a wide range of genres from folk to country to electronica and all points in-between. With A Different Ship, Here We Go Magic has clearly and undeniably arrived at the port of entry to indie rock's pantheon of top shelf acts – an utterly shattering release that anyone who likes forward-thinking music must have.