Great bands don’t come out of nowhere, like some rip in the space-time continuum opens up and Led Zeppelin drops out of the sky or something—most really good bands take years to get that way. Look at Nada Surf, who hit their stride with Let Go, a decade after “Popular” nearly doomed them to one-hit wonder status and haven’t peaked yet as far as I can tell.
So imagine my surprise when a really great new band landed on me recently in the form of Magnetic Flowers, from right here in Columbia, South Carolina. How they made an album as good as their new debut, Presents Pasts and Futures, at such an early stage in their development, I don’t know and really don’t care at this point—it’s enough to just acknowledge that it exists and be thankful for that.
After seeing the band live last month, I made a mental note to revisit the CD their producer had handed me a few weeks prior to that, but didn’t actually get around to doing so until today, when I took it with me to run a few errands around town before heading to work.
Mike Scott of the Waterboys coined the term, “The Big Music” for the grandiose, spectral arrangements his band utilized on early albums like A Pagan Place and This Is The Sea, but it applies equally well to the Flowers’ important-sounding indie rock. There was always a sense of making serious and important statements on a Waterboys album, and it is that attitude, more so than the quasi-spiritual lyrical poeticism of Mike Scott, that Magnetic Flowers appropriates here.
“Mark Pyritz Goes to Mexico,” is a great, rollicking call-to-arms that’s a perfect album opener, even as it confronts life-and-death topics in the context of a road trip south of the border. The character that’s closing in on the Grim Reaper (probably the ‘Mark Pyritz’ of the title) gives a sage bit of parting advice, but the real kicker here is the intertwined music that fits the lyrics so well that when they sing, “Sun is drowning in the sea, and our hearts waltz in time,” the guitars actually crank out a quick 3/4 –time riff as a route back into the chorus. It’s a small moment, but one that speaks volumes about where these guys are coming from as musicians and artists, sweating the details that give a fuller understanding and enjoyment for the listener.
“Widescreen Version,” would be called the ‘hit’ on this album, if there were a chance that it might get a wide enough hearing to have a chance to become one. Starting off with a leisurely, loping, Seventies-rock vibe, like a sleepy Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, halfway through it kicks into fast forward, and as the song careens to a close with the repeated chorus, “Someone should make a movie about you,” somebody yells “Roll the end credits!” in the background, and a litany of movie workers, from the producer on down, begins, culminating in the line, “some of us actors, most of us extras, and you, you as yourself.”
Magnetic Flowers’ musical strength lies in their arrangements, a lost art among rock bands especially on the level of local clubbing that they are in. The piano alone separates them from their peers and adds layers of texture in their sound, then they add the occasional horn solo and various stringed instruments which sometimes results in a cacophony of sound resembling nothing so much as a Broadway pit orchestra with a few drinks in them after a three-performance day. Having seen them pull this off live, I can say that not only does it translate to the stage well, like all good music it is made even more immediate and emotionally stunning in person.
check their Myspace page to download the two songs mentioned above, and for tour dates.