Here We Go Magic's sophomore LP-- produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead)-- shows a significant amount of promise in its first breaths. Opener "Hard To Be Close" sets a brilliant stage with its layering. First single "Make Up Your Mind" is springy and supple, the kind of dynamic runaround that can hold your attention for minutes with nothing but a simple riff and the rotating accents around it. It might be one of the best songs of the year. But it turns out this building of layers would be the essential blueprint for all of A Different Ship
, and it doesn't always work. It's a collection of songs that all feel like a big white room with a variety of colorful characters constantly moving in and out of doors on either end (sometimes a lot of them, sometimes none at all). The problem isn't the movement (which is always engaging), it's the base of what we're working with being too drab to stand on its own when there's no action.
Godrich seems to assume that Luke Temple (like Yorke) has an interesting enough voice to carry odd melodies and layers of sound without pronounced melodic contour, and sometimes that's just not the case. The slower songs, as a result, feel weighed and dull until the instrumental accents get big. "Alone But Moving" and "I Believe In Action" both suffer from stagnant first halfs, but they grow to be interesting by the end. By "Over The Ocean," we're left assuming each song is a predictable wave of simplicity to start, and a sonic wash towards the end to complicate Temple's slow-moving melodies. The pairing is at its best when Temple's typically twee songwriting is met with Godrich's production on more of a sprint than a crawl-- "Hard To Be Close," "Make Up Your Mind" and "How Do I Know" being the operative examples. "Hard To Be Close" plays the effortless Godrich-patented melancholy glee aesthetic with excellent instrumental layering that weaves in and out, and "How Do I Know" plays like a Wes Anderson cut scene (in the best way) and makes incredible use of instrumental layering to create an engaging build right from the first verse (ironically, the music video
looks like it should have been directed by him). All three stand out not only from the other medium moments on A Different Ship
, but as sounds that are unlike anything else I've heard this year.
So at their best ("Hard To Be Close," "How Do I Know," "Make Up Your Mind," and "A Different Ship"), the Temple-Godrich pairing really excels-- but HWGM is not the same kind of band as Godrich's meal ticket, and occasionally, the project suffers for his forcing of the entire formula. Some of Temple's more directionless songs, especially the slow ones, are made less interesting by the slow addition of other, larger sounds (as was the intention, I think-- layer function over discernible form). The title track, "A Different Ship," shows Temple is entirely competent when it comes to writing a song with good melodic movement. Its a song doesn't have to move quickly to keep the listener interested. But with so many other songs that try to be like "A Different Ship" and don't accomplish the same contour or level of interest, the beautiful final track leaves us more exhausted than satiated, looking for meaning in the endlessly shifting mix.