Unlike in hip-hop, where news of DJ Premier teaming up with Nas again makes rap bloggers fill their shorts, producers in indie rock don’t have as much “OMG! He’s teaming up with who?” cultural cachet. No one’s sitting around wondering if Phil Ek is going to do another album with the Dodos, in other words. But there’s one exception to this: Nigel Godrich, he of “sixth member of Radiohead” fame, a man nearly as famous as the band he helmed the boards for.
So, the idea that Nigel Godrich offered up his services to Brooklyn’s Here We Go Magic carries a certain amount of Big Deal trappings. Here We Go Magic started out as the home recording project of Luke Temple, before he expanded the project into a full-fledged band for 2010’s Pigeons, a solid album that saw Temple’s affinity for krautrock-ian loops expanded to breathier, more fleshed-out textures. It certainly had its fans: Godrich and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke were caught enjoying the band’s set at Glastonbury that year. After that, Godrich teamed up with Temple and company for the new A Different Ship, an album that expands Temple’s palette further, a well mannered, meticulously crafted 10-song cycle.
The discussion of the singles off A Different Ship can begin and end with “Make Up Your Mind;” It’s the best song Temple has written until now, all forward motion, jittery guitar, and post Speaking in Tongues obliqueness. It feels like a culmination of everything Here We Go Magic have been up to until this point, a final realization of the expansion of the band’s sound that started when Temple added other people to his experimental folk project. The rest of the album doesn’t carry the same perfection, but the snappy and percussive “I Believe in Action” and the jangly “How Do I Know” are also highlights, expansive in their attention to small details.
So what is Godrich’s end contribution? Well, this certainly sounds a lot cleaner than Pigeons did, and his experience of honing Radiohead’s experimentation is a perfect fit here, since a lot of this sounds like stripped down cuts from Hail to the Thief. But what’s remarkable is that Here We Go Magic clearly felt no added pressure with Godrich on board—this is the logical continued growth of the band, not a bending of a band’s aesthetic to match a producer. Which is why A Different Ship is something of a let down; when you want Here We Go Magic to kick a window in with a muscular riff, or want something other than another airy, machine-precise ballad, they deliver more of the same. Like Pigeons before it, A Different Ship is a solid album, but one that still finds Here We Go Magic on the road to perfecting and updating their sound on a full-length album.