Magnetic Ghost's 'Pixels' Is Andy Larson's Most Majestic and Profound Music

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Magnetic Ghost's Pixels is absolutely masterful stuff from a sound-sculptor sitting at the intersection of post-rock, post-classical, and strains of ambient music.

Magnetic Ghost

Round Bale Recordings

28 February 2020

There are many spots where one can enter Pixels, the new LP from Magnetic Ghost, the nom de guerre of Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist Andy Larson. I like to begin with the second track, "Joshua Tree at Sunset". The piece starts amidst a buzzing drone, and the swells wax vaguely synthetic, backed by the whirring of gears and the inverse loop of recorded noise. But they also are utterly cinematic, as Larson introduces the faintest hint of frozen-crystal post-rock guitars to bring his sound-portrait into perspective.

Enter the voice.

"Everybody wants / To own the end of the world," Larson intones, and the whole thing fades to black, the percussion silenced, the swells dropping out: an unexpected drawing of the curtain. Then, pause, two, three, four, it suddenly resurfaces again, the glassy guitars and maraca-shake offering structure as synths and other electronic bits of faux dissonance thrum and throb in the background, drifting from side to side. "All roads lead away from / Future ghost towns now," he sings, his voice, passionate but subdued, a half-step or two above a whisper. "Four million iPhones / Self-medication zones / Endless size." The piece unfolds for five enveloping minutes or so, ebbing and flowing, flowing and ebbing, and there are moments when it genuinely will send chills up your spine. Here's your thesis, kids: this is quite possibly the best initiation of a song I've heard yet in 2020.

Pixels is, in short, absolutely masterful stuff from a sound-sculptor sitting at the intersection of post-rock, post-classical, and strains of ambient music. Others have passed this point in the musical-idiom road; after all, Vancouverite Scott Morgan (Loscil) and the Brussels-based composer Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory for the Sullen) live nearby. But few have managed to concoct a sound that so dutifully borrows from, even leans on each genre while not resembling a cluttered series of overlaid transparencies. This is quite possibly the music the late Rachel's and Per Mission alum Jason Noble would be hearing in his head if he were alive today.

The Jason Noble comparison is a thorny one. Although at least one track features a signature Noble-ism (the off-tempo double-kick drum line of "Reality Exists Inside the Skull"), this is light-years removed from the pressure-cooker/post-hardcore tendencies of Rodan or Shipping News, both essential parts of the Noble puzzle. Noble utilized a larger-than-life sense of drama and, occasionally, longing; Larson instead specializes in an oddly mellow though still over-saturated form of portraiture. A song like the lullaby-esque "Reality Distortion Field" blurs the line between sinewy guitars and pulsing synths.

"Light", which pairs Larson's whisper-speak with Holy Habstritt-Gaal's breathy timbre, is appropriate to its title, so airy and ethereal, it risks floating out of your stereo and up into the stratosphere altogether. A hint of pedal steel two minutes in will knock you over with its featheriness. On opener "Does It Dream?" notes from Larson's guitars dance and fizzle on the surface of the track, like so many Pop Rocks on a sticky tongue. It's an absolute treat to listen to this with noise-canceling headphones. This is My Bloody Valentine-style shoegaze, ripped off all the distortion and fuzz, still navel-gazing and lost in a sea of unadulterated sound.

Pixels closes with the stage undressing of "Delete", its eighth track, where Larson's shuffling acoustic guitar gets buried beneath blankets of ambient texture. It's fittingly measured and subdued, but when, on the first bridge, Larson's falsetto fades into an endless sea of reverb, you already start replaying the record's highlights. And, I hope it goes without saying at this point, there are many.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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