Mellow psychedelic rockers Magic Castles were just featured on the Hymie’s blog a few weeks ago, but that was because I accidentally posted a draft of this “top ten” piece about their album instead of clicking “save.” I guess the music was so good I was distracted. Some of what follows is a “re-run” but the songs themselves are surely worth another listen.
Magic Castles is a sort of early retrospective on the bands’ brief career of relatively obscure releases. The dreamlike, hypnotic “Songs of the Forest” was the title track of the band’s sole release for the awesome cassette-based label, Moon Glyph (who were rightfully named the Twin Cities’ best record label by City Pages in 2012), and I assume a number of the remaining tracks come from Magic Castles’ earlier, self-released albums (the band also appeared on Moon Glyph’s awesome, entertaining compilation LP, Regolith Vol. 1, in 2010, but that track is not here).
(“Songs of the Forest”)
The double LP is consistently reminiscent of my favorite 60s psychedelic albums without becoming bogged down in outdated styles or weird instruments. In fact, most of the album is the standard instrumentation of guitar, bass, drums and farfisa or hammond organ. Okay, there’s a trombone on one track, but as another local psych rock band (Panther Ray) proved earlier this year, trombones are fun!
“Now I’m a Little Cold” was my favorite track the first time I heard this album – it could have come off an obscure record like the teenage psych trip Suddenly One Summer by J.K. & Co, and the wispy vocals throughout could have been lifted from the Gandolf album (both rare records recently revived by reissue label Sundazed). In a couple of other tracks Magic Castles could be compared to the 70s Beach Boys albums we were listening to on the blog this fall (here‘s one of those posts).
Not everything feels like it’s from four decades ago – “Imaginary Friends” and “10 100” are in the same style as Lambchop’s lush chamber pop, and “Emery Memories” could be any of a number of contemporary garage pop bands, most of whom spend a lot of time and money trying to sound this genuinely lo-fi.
I didn’t keep a copy of the Magic Castles tape when we had it in stock and I wish I had. I always take for granted that we won’t sell out of the Moon Glyph cassettes and then when I want to listen to them they’re not only sold out, but out of print! There were only 100 copies so I guess its not easy to find or likely to just turn up around here. Some types of music are just destined to become fleeting and rare, I guess (Fact: People take tapes for granted but they treasure LPs. Tapes are sadly only a little bit above CD-Rs).
The sort-of garage-y, sort-of lush and Beach Boys-y “Big Sur” slowly became my favorite track after I’d listened to the album several times – I think it’s because of the second half, which starts with a driving drum and bass riff and grows, keeping my feet moving along the way.
“Ballad of the Golden Bird”
But the track that captured the attention of A Records, who released the double LP, was “Ballad of the Golden Bird.” That starts with a long, spooky vocal introduction (a minute and a half altogether) before jumping into the band’s brightest, catchiest melody. It’s sort of amazing to imagine one song bringing such a great opportunity as having a mid-sized label make and distribute your album and the support that comes with that (A Records is the pet label run by the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe). Magic Castles makes great use of that opportunity.
If the band has the opportunity to produce a second A-distributed album, it will be very exciting to see what they do starting from scratch with new songs and perhaps a single series of recording sessions. As with the first few records on our “top 10 favorites” of 2012, this one leaves me eager to hear what’s next.