We Should All Float On. OK?
Magic Trick’s latest, River of Souls, occupies one of the most pleasant pastures in rock: That comforting, mildly psychedelic and accommodatingly low-key place alongside The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile, where everything is just more colorful and it’s all peppered with homages to the better angels of the ’60s and ’70s. Altamont doesn’t exist in this realm. What separates River of Souls is that its songs are tighter and a tad more R&B than what you would find on TWOD’s vital Slave Ambient or Vile’s latest masterpiece, Wakin on a Pretty Daze. To be sure, this is an easy-breezy, unassuming collection of songs. Every clean guitar riff, synthesizer pad and organ and every vocal hook stay with the listener. The lyrics often center on the classic romantic tropes, but to great effect. This album should be a candidate for one’s permanent collection.
Much more so than Vile or The War on Drugs, Tim Cohen and his band offer up an homage to early rock-and-roll through motifs that sometimes sound like David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s work with Julee Cruise– but with about 95 percent less reverb and 95 percent more sunshine. On “Crazy Teeth,” steady-thumping drums and jittery surf-rock guitars dominate the mix along with gorgeous female-vocal harmonies, as Cohen sings about preferring girls with less-than-perfect teeth over “pretty girls.”
“Salvation” has the vibe of a song off Beck’s Mutations, but with a happier chorus that recalls more of the earnestness of Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper and less the cynicism of the ’60s revival numbers of the Lewinsky era. The slow song moves along steadily with a wah-wah guitar taking the lead, backed with happy rhythm guitars and a soulful Hammond organ. With all of that going on comes “My World.” It takes garage rock and successfully adds Motown. It’s a blue-eyed “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” performed by a bunch of California psychedelic-rockers, and it’s brilliant. As Cohen pleads, “Please don’t take my world from me,” the listener might not hear the soulful mourning of the Four Tops, but he or she does feel the cracks in the sunny veneer that has carried throughout the album.
It is often risky to title an album something like River of Souls. There is a certain promise an artist makes to a listener with something that loaded (and borderline overly-earnest or cliche and so many other things), but Cohen and Magic Trick deliver wholeheartedly. This is an important record. After all, we need all the care-free sunshine we can get.