5 out of 5
Produced by: Jon Tschurwald
Label: Suicide Squeeze
I suppose I’ve always considered John Atkins’ – he of 764-hero and Magic Magicians – skills to he most apparent when his compositions are stripped back to bare essentials. 764 started as just guitar and drums and produced some wonderfully raw material; when the group ‘expanded’ to include bass and keys, it took a release, it seemed, for John to figure out how to hone the sounds for the brilliant slowburn of Weekends of Sound.
Magic Magicians was a “side project,” but as it was produced by two Seattle luminaries, with Black Heart Procession’s Joe Plummer on drums, and this also seemed like return to that early 764-hero simplicity, I hoped it might result in more than a lark. Indeed.
It’s rough; it’s way off key at points, but Girls features some of the most brutally sincere relationship scrawls Atkins has screed, heartfully sung o’er the most delightfully tweaked pop. The sequencing is pretty key to enjoyment: If you can deal with the atonal vocals and synths of opener I’m On Your Side and the off-time, broken pacing of follow up 123 to 9 to 5 – if you can smile at the shambling confidence of it all, like a lovesick, drunken poet doing his own Say Anything shtick – then you’re in for further treats. Further listens reveal dots of tasteful complexity throughout, whether it’s the spotty keys, or bass, or the decision to let a vocal reverb out, this is the sound of some seasoned dudes narrowing their sound down to only what’s needed to keep the sour-sweet smiles flowing. I will not deny that Atkins sense of tuneful is an acquired taste, but his pop smarts – backed by the equally capable Plummer – should be able to sway you in favor of this (I’d say) overlooked gem.