Sweaty Magic EP
(Asthmatic Kitty; 2008)
By Conrad Amenta | 10 September 2008
Birthed supposedly of the kind of song-a-day art project that usually yields musical abortions, Rafter’s Sweaty Magic EP ends up being the best thing he’s ever put out, if only because his usual approach to albums is to throw a bowl of spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.
What Sweaty Magic also hints at is why Beck’s Midnight Vultures (1999) ended a far more memorable, lasting, and substantial album than his minor-chorded “real” albums, which instead saw Beck pushing melancholy food for thought around his plate. Like Vultures, Sweaty Magic is a party CD free of the tie-downs of obligatory issue songs or any balladry other than the ironic kind. Though Rafter has never been known for extensive self-censorship, until now his musical adherences resembled a man running something flaming at a bucket of water. Taking such a wide lens off his ‘real’ projects, Sweaty Magic is the fluency of Rafter’s musicianship grafted easily over seven great songs about sex. Finally.
“Noise” is a run on stilts, great canned drum rolls breaking up tumbling tones, but it’s “Magic” that’s the EP at its most fun: big orchestra hits, dance club beats, and a semi-exotica outro that apes dance and sex in exactly the right way. The best dancers, to say nothing of lovers, often end up the most uninhibited and silliest and, again like Vultures, Rafter seems to understand that any sense of self-importance severely limits the music’s best-by date. To wit, “Noise” and “Magic” are, together, about three and a half minutes long.
“Salt” is the catchiest song Rafter’s put out, which is saying something given the number of diamond melodies to be mined from his discographic detritus. Easy guitar sweeps and creeping sound effects over genuinely funny choruses are a rare thing. “Sweat” likewise sets a galloping lope and combines it with a repeat of the semi-Eastern moans that “Magic” used so effectively, though there’s an ill-advised evocation of date rape in the line, “You don’t need to know what’s in it / If you did you wouldn’t drink it” that is the EP’s single crack in an otherwise effortlessly fun runtime, however unintentional the line may be.
“Heat” closes out the EP with perfect mock solemnity, a hymnal organ line following an Eels-like percussive bass that cracks a smile through the staged act. Rafter sings, “I’m feeling like I’m manufactured,” and it’s entirely appropriate for an effort that sees him masking coherently rather than tearing off, in full disarray, in every direction. Three more songs of similar quality and dropping the story about how this was just some free writing experiment and Sweaty Magic would probably have been one of my albums of the year. Rafter’s taut song writing has often announced itself in twenty-second packages from the messy piles of songs and albums. This is the closest he’s come to hacking away at himself to a razor point. This may find itself more often reached for than anything so self-consciously legitimate as a “real” album.