Here We Go Magic

Here We Go Magic

(Western Vinyl; 2009)

By Conrad Amenta | 4 March 2009

Score one for the cartographers, those exploding heads who smear their glorious gobbledigook across sheets and ears alike in their own maddeningly personal take on order. It’s our duty as listeners to distinguish them from the colonialists, the kids with the admittedly great record collections who appropriate and export in near echoes rather than place their stamp on things.

I start out this way because “Only Pieces” immediately conjures 2008’s Most Contentiously Likable Band, Vampire Weekend. And there groans the collective readership, whether they like Vampire Weekend or not, clicking back in their browsers and moving on. I understand. Knowing that an album is something you’ve already liked is probably worse than discovering something you can hate in a new way, and Here We Go Magic is certainly not that. Rest assured, it’s a subliminal record that slips effortlessly into your listening rotation, cycling through your days as naturally as through its arrangements, vining around your psyche and hanging there unobtrusively. This is downright accommodating next to Vampire Weekend’s elbowing of whoever used to be indie’s inoffensive counterweight (the Shins?) off the pedestal.

The differences are many and essential. Replace VW’s self-consciousness with contemplation; their laborious, dutiful movements through song structure with textures that run together, sometimes like water or sometimes like paint; the needling singles “Oxford Comma” and almost offensively titled “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” with “Fangela” and “Tunnelvision.” Here We Go Magic fully commit to the slimmed down ideas, exploring the fullest parameters of their primary colors, which is exactly what I want from a debut album: masterful control of a humble scope. That this album is one of the year’s most unpretentious indie records is as certain as that Vampire Weekend, fresh from their performance on Jimmy Kimmel with some university marching band, are right now considering the virtues of a string section, courting Brian Eno, or getting uppity with ethical condescension for their followup.

“Tunnelvision” nutshells every likable thing about this short and sweet effort. Warm acoustic guitar bounces through a bassy mix. Luke Temple offers lyrical snippets adherent to the album’s obvious emphasis on fleshing out the full potential of each idea. Thankfully far from big concept, Temple floats lines like “people live and then they die,” and “what’s the use in dying, dying / if I don’t know when?” from “Only Pieces,” and repeats them. The simplicity of his delivery is matched by the effortlessness with which he posits lines that could end up sounding armchair philosophy. Or take the ambient “Ghost List,” which, for most artists, would be the stuff of impoverished ideas and great, swiping misses at intellectual artisanship. Here it’s an aesthetic centerpiece, trimmed and kept humble, bridging the cliffhanging “Tunnelvision” to the pale yellow light “I Just Want to See You Underwater.” This also, unfortunately, renders the alternate ambient offerings of “Babyohbabyijustcantstanditanymore” and “Nat’s Alien” largely redundant, especially for such a short record. So, after the swinging and intentionally cute “Everything’s Big,” which somehow also pans into majesty at its end, what we’re left with is one hell of an EP, perhaps too propped up by those unfortunate pastiches to get too many people’s attention.

Which is still a few maddeningly infectious songs and strangely resilient melodies, the kind of listen that bears out the sort of rigorous attention that resigns bands like Vampire Weekend to the trash heap of temporary relevance. One of the most immediate records of the year so far, Here We Go Magic materialize as if they’ve always been here. Which, it turns out, may be right where they deserve to be.