If you make your way to Young Magic’s blog/home page, the first thing you’ll see is the cover art of one of the band’s 7” splits, released about a year ago. The image, like the band’s sound, is both arresting and difficult to wrap your head around: in black and white, two mirrored figures in burkas hover, suspended, over a barren desert landscape. Spend five minutes scrolling through the page and you’ll find more album art and dozens of other images: maps, portraits, collages, architecture, even feedback-generated song visualizations created by synth-artist Le Révélateur. It’s a wild, strange ride that reflects the disparate influences at play behind the complicated Young Magic sound, which includes but isn’t limited to drum machines, synth setups, heavy vocal effect, and/or birds chirping. There’s no attempt to ground these songs, nor is that the group’s intention: like the way those figures float above the sand, the songs on Melt operate above the realms of pop or EDM or ambient music; instead, they reach down for whichever themes or tropes they want. It’s an intoxicating product that, with all its intricacy, moves in both visceral and cerebral ways, capturing at different times sparseness and lushness, trance and contemplation, open-ended landscapes and claustrophobic walls of sound.
But it’s difficult to peg the whole album with one description or another. Comparisons don’t quite match up to the task, either. There are clear nods to fellow psychedelics Animal Collective, and more approachable, danceable tracks like “Jam Klaret” could have mingled well with the songs on Passion Pit’s Manners. A key difference lies in Young Magic’s general dismissal of – or at least their lessened emphasis on – vocals, preferring instead to let the setups do the singing. If there are discernible voices, they’ve probably been processed and mixed in seamlessly. Singer/producer Isaac Emmanuel’s verses on single “You With Air” err on the side of hip-hop (though barely), but they play second fiddle to the chanted, slurred chorus, more wailed than sung.
The heavy hitter here is “Night in the Ocean,” which charts a path among glittery synths, heavy toms, and bassy drops. Another of last year’s singles, album opener “Sparkly,” is sheer percussion greatness, taking its cues from the West African rhythms that made much of Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor such a force. But Young Magic aren’t much interested in pop structures, and though most of the songs here follow a similar narrative arc (hushed openers, reinforced by a few percussive elements, reinforced in turn by dense, layered guitar and keys, which all wind down together quietly), every song chooses baroque intricacy over simpler structures. Even closer “Drawing Down The Moon,” which begins calmly and reflectively, like an undisturbed pool of water, is soon rattled by the same churning structure. It’s clear that Young Magic have all the tools and instincts down pat; even without meaning to, this album delves happily, though briefly, into pop excellence. The question may not be whether or not they can harness their talent into something as elusive or ineffable as Merriweather Post Pavilion – it may be whether or not they want to.