by Dominique MinorIt was the summer of 2003 when I became obsessed with the short-lived ABC Family television series, The Brendan Leonard Show. It was also during this time that my love affair with a certain two-piece indie rock band began. For each of the 40 episodes, Brendan would pick a "band of the day," using each selection as the backdrop to comical antics performed by him and teen-aged comrades as they reeked havoc in their small Illinois town. Simply put, the show was Jackass for kids. Brendan's picks generally tended toward bands based in and around the Northwestern U.S., such as Minus the Bear, Built To Spill and Bangs. I religiously searched for every band he mentioned. Of the groups he chose, it was The Magic Magicians that stood out the most, although initially for their redundant moniker. For me, a sixteen-year-old audio-obsessive burgeoning into a then newly-discovered world of indie rock, discovering a band with a weird name that my friends had never heard of was not unlike finding a goldmine.
As I began searching for information about The Magic Magicians online, I discovered that, while their music is widely available for purchase, it was difficult to find information on the band itself. Google searches for "The Magic Magicians" and "review" yielded less than 95 results. Most of it was comprised of scant biographies, about a dozen album reviews, and a solitary black-and-white promotional band photo (see above). Despite having contributions on both of their albums from alt-rock heavy-hitters Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Coady Willis of the Melvins, and ex-Dinosaur Jr. bassist Mike Johnson, The Magic Magicians managed to exist in nearly complete obscurity throughout their short-lived existence.
Formed in 2000 by John Atkins of 764-Hero and Joe Plummer, who later joined Modest Mouse, The Magic Magicians--a name as I later learned was spawned from an inside joke--served as a side project that resulted into two full-length albums, Girls (2001) and Wishing What I Write May Be Read In Their Light (2003), released on Suicide Squeeze Records. The result was a nervy, unpolished sound that delighted me, and I consumed it like a starving man given the keys to a fully-stocked pantry.
I found myself becoming lost in The Magic Magicians' collection of twenty-one seemingly haphazardly-concocted lo-fi songs. The hodge-podge of musical styles combine pop melodies ("123 To 9 To 5"), mounting piano chords ("Anglophiles"), and just enough twee to keep hipsters in tow ("Bored Ticket Taker"). Each listener can be sure to find a favorite song, whether it's on the sunny melodies of Girls, or the refined, yet darker, slow-burn of Wishing....
Drawing upon influences such as Flaming Lips ("Everyone Is Wrong"), The Promise Ring ("Time Zones Be Damned"), T. Rex ("Cab and I"), and Big Star ("How Could You Do That?"), the Magic Magicians managed to capture the true essence of indie rock: a descriptive term that is often misappropriated when it is used to define a band's aesthetic, rather than an ethos. This was recently exemplified when I saw a pair of jeans labeled "Indie Slim" on a recent sojourn to Hot Topic. Yelling above the piercing wails of Fall Out Boy, I asked my friend "What is the sound of independence, and what the hell does it have to do with pants?"
After hearing music fans and critics lament the death of rock and roll, and discovering The Magic Magicians, I could not fathom why the band seemed slip under the radar, it is music that is free of the conventions that have become the music industry's current definition of "indie." Through warbling vocals, heartfelt guitar lines and a combination of pensive, wry lyrics, the band crafted an unadorned and unaffected mix of music that single-handedly serves as a prototype to an often misunderstood genre of music. And it is in a world of Pro Tools-altered glitter and gloss, that The Magic Magicians one-take-sounding songs are a desperately-needed tonic.
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