Chico Mann (aka Marcos Garcia) is an artist who is difficult to pigeonhole into a single musical genre. The New York City-born multi-instrumentalist has worked with indie darlings TV On The Radio, revered Philly rap band the Roots, and Dam Funk in addition to being a solo artist. The genre-bender eclectically mixes elements of pop, funk, electronic, merengue, and Afro-beat throughout his fifth album Magical Thinking, released via Soundway. The era that most influences Mann throughout the album is the 1980s, where cues overtly reference the synth-heavy music of that time.
Magical Thinking has many solid musical moments of note. “Comes and Goes” sets the tone, dominated by synths and funk ideas definitive of the 80s. The instrumental riffs are the main attraction, in addition to the overall lushness of the timbre. Annakalmia Traver handles vocal duties, delivering a solid, no frills performance. Leaving little to quibble about ultimately, “Comes And Goes” (like many proceeding cuts), overindulges in duration. “Edge of It” complements, buttressed by superb drum groove and funky, rhythmic guitar. The production is crisp and clean, laden with minimal, repetitive ideas. The neo-disco track “Same Old Clown” caps off the trio of standouts, with guest vocalist Kendra Morris matching the danceable nature of the music with light, perfectly suited vocals.
“Long Time Gone” feels like one gargantuan groove as opposed to standard songwriting structure, driven by a techno-influenced beat. The vocals are difficult to decipher here, playing more of a timbrel role than a lyrical one. “Vivito (El Colibri)” lacks some of the ‘oomph’ of the opening trio, though Mann’s alluring synthesizer work and vocal enthusiasm atones well enough. Length continues to detract somewhat, but standout “Magic Touch” arrives timely to refocus energy into a brief, well packaged cut. The vocals are more vamp-like, with lyrics “Hey! You got the magic touch! It’s magic” epitomizing such.
“Esta Bueno” and “Estrellitas (Little Stars)” continues to highlight facets of Mann’s heritage, embracing Spanish lyrics and a solid Latin-electro feel respectively. “I Feel It”, featuring Alecia Chakour is stronger though, embodying ‘80s dance-pop at its best. Singing doesn’t dominate or characterize here, but Chakour’s hook and ad libs provide a solid lift. “One Day Late” builds upon that momentum, delivering arguably the effort’s funkiest groove and strongest production work. Contrasting other cuts, there are more vocals here, led by key lyric “Help is coming, one day late.” “Vengo A Ti” sports excellent African-influenced percussive programming while “Oye, Mira” follows a similar script as other cuts tapping into Mann’s heritage and influences. Two untitled cuts also grace the set, with track 14 standing out amongst them with a ‘funked-up’ groove.
Overall, Magical Thinking does feature some ‘magical thinking’ as suggested. Mann’s musicianship and creativity ultimately never falls short on this set. The groove always propels, even when some songs grow overwrought in length and repetition. Perhaps labeling this set as innovative would be and overstatement, but Mann navigates through ‘80s influences and cues masterfully.