Dark To Light
Century II Records, 1995
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/26/1997
I knew I was in trouble when I opened up the press kit for Canadian band Magic Music when one of the first images I was greeted with was the drawing of a bare-breasted woman holding two snakes. My worry was that I was in for an evening of listening to experimental electronic music with bizarre lyrics.
And after listening to Dark To Light, I stood corrected in my assumption that the album would be filled with bizarre sexual imagery. And it was not the bizarre electronic nightmare I thought it would be. But the band suffers from its own ambitions.
The band's core is comprised of vocalist Frank Phillet and guitarist Neil MacIver, who spent the better part of the past ten years recording and mixing this album for its eventual release about a year ago. After spending almost three decades together working on and refining their style, they have only been met with rejection from the majors, telling them their songs have no commercial potential.
I don't think I'd go that far, but you'd be hard-pressed to hear someting similar to Magic Music's style on the radio today. It is a style that taqkes some getting used to - and frankly, I can't say I'm quite used to it yet.
The lyrics seem to fall under the "stream of consciousness" style - Phillett's lyrics often don't rhyme or follow any true rhythmic pattern with the music. On songs like "Friday Night At The Bookclub," this works as a disadvantage for the band; keeping some order to go with the music's tempo would go a long way in improving this band. (And I don't care how poetic the imagery is, this song proves that cock-rock is still cock-rock.)
Often, it feels like the band doesn't have the confidence it needs to break out and make their presence heard on the instrumentation. I found myself constantly waiting for the drums to really kick in or for MacIver to kick his guitar into overdrive and put some muscle into the mix. Just a small shift in instrumental style would have spoke volumes on songs like "Lifeforce:Deathfoce" and "Under Another Moon."
I also found myself waiting for Phillet to cut loose in the vocal department. When he has the courage to do so on songs like "It's Just My Foolish Heart," it adds a whole new dimension to the music. But for the most part, Phillet's delivery is quite melancholy - and that's not always a good thing.
Even when Magic Music tries to cut loose on "The Radiant Blue Horizons," the change in style makes them sound uncomfortable. And I'm not arguing that they should mold themselves into the sound of a bar band, 'cause I don't think it would work for them. But when they're on, like they were on "It's Just My Foolish Heart" - hell, even when they come close to the target on "Lifeforce:Deathforce," you can hear the difference.
Maybe part of the problem is that they have spent over a decade writing, recording and mixing this album (someone wanna warn Tom Scholz that he's got company?). In my experience, there comes a time when you've done all the work you can do on a project, and you just have to let it go and hope for the best, rough edges and all. In the case of Dark To Light, it maybe was in the shop a little too long.
I hate writing negative reviews of independent bands, because it may make them think they don't have a chance of competing against established bands - c'mon, do you really think I'm looking forward to another decade of crap from Motley Crue? But maybe one grows with constructive criticism. In the case of Magic Music, they're not a bad band - different, yes, but not bad. And maybe someone who can appreciate the weirdness of, say, King Crimson, can appreciate the moods Phillet and MacIver are setting on Dark To Light. But the average listener is normally not willing to expend the extra time or thought towards "stream of consciousness" music. My advice: tighten up the lyrics just a bit, have the courage to put some crunch in to the instrumentation, and call me when it's done.