Magnet: On Your Side

Zeth Lundy


On Your Side

Label: Filter US
US Release Date: 2004-09-28
UK Release Date: 2003-11-03

Recent years have ushered in a new wave of Britpop that offers an overcast alternative to sunny California provincialisms. Armed with patient tempos, pretty melodies, and a varying disposition towards optimism, these bands have carved out a highly recognizable niche where ups and downs coalesce into a mild strain of nonchalance. Oddly enough, they also seem to wield one-word names: Travis, Keane, Starsailor, and Doves to name a few.

Add to that list another one-word name: Magnet, the vehicle for Norwegian songwriter Even Johansen. On Your Side is Johansen's latest offering, an album of recollection, loneliness, and inward assessment that applies the lush, haunting Britpop with panoramic generosity. The songs are confessional and naked, wrapped in luscious arrangements that sop up tears like foliage on a forest floor. On Your Side brims with bounteous atmosphere and emotion, a spacious strain of string-spiced pop that expands under the direction of Johansen's space-cowboy-in-training.

"The Day We Left Town", an escapist ode to torching the house and leaving for good, detonates into a Technicolor version of the Notwist's Neon Golden: itching electronics and gestating strings tow Johansen towards a horizon where "flames kiss the sky". Skittering electronics swagger around ambient wind chimes like a pop Phillip Glass in "Last Day of Summer", which cautions, "You're still trying to mine for memories in a ghost". Johansen's proximate, breathy vocals (which occasionally leave traces of Thom Yorke and Grant Lee Phillips) ache in the velveteen waltz of "Everything's Perfect" and float into falsetto in the subtle soul of "Overjoyed".

There's a sensation of universality in Magnet's songs, like a giant cinespace of waking dreams for an expansive, life-logged audience. The melodies soar and sparkle, the instrumentation is humid and textured. Likewise, Johansen wearily pursues recognizable themes of expired love: holding onto someone merely for the memory they evoke ("Last Day of Summer"); trying to revive a memory while refusing to see the present for what it really is ("On Your Side"); the lure of addiction jeopardizing a relationship ("Where Happiness Lives"); attempting to lift a lover's depression in vain (the Radiohead-esque "Smile to the World"). "You said you'd die for me," Johansen rattles in the opener "Everything's Perfect", "So why can't you live for me?" The odd thing about On Your Side is that no one track stands out as more empowering or accomplished than another; Magnet's music is like Paxil to the memories it confronts. As a result, the record's dreary haze flatlines early and causes the final third to lag in a funk of sameness.

Even the sleepy cover of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay", a duet with the similarly silk-lunged Gemma Hayes, is non-committal and begrudgingly resigned. Johansen interprets Dylan's country tune as a cinematic dream-march, staffed with a throng of brass and strings. While it's not one of the greatest songs in Dylan's oppressive catalog, it's an appropriate fit for Magnet's morning-after pleas.

On Your Side has been available in the UK for nearly a year now, and has since gone Gold in Johansen's home of Norway. Domestically, it is now the inaugural release for Filter Magazine's newly launched record label. (Coincidentally, Magnet bears the same name as one of Filter's competitors in the publishing world, so try not to be confused. If Magnet Magazine becomes a label and signs Filter, there's a conspiracy afoot.) The US release sports three bonus tracks, all of which are unidentifiable from its official sequence: "Chasing Dreams"; the synth Pet Sounds bounce "Wish Me Well"; and "Little Miss More or Less".

Magnet is a likeable, inoffensive presence on the stereo, and On Your Side could very well be this year's album of choice for swooning college students nursing a past heartbreak. But under its lovely spell of swirls and billows, Magnet is glassy eyed and insubstantially precious. On Your Side is a tempered exhalation: a giant, heaving sigh that simply runs out of air unnoticeably fast.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.