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Piano Magic, "Writers Without Homes"

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After about the third listen through, I noticed that this album seemed devoid of something. There comes a particular repertoire with each Piano Magic release, one you are just conditioned to expect based on their past works. But this new album did not seem to feature this repertoire. Gone are the perplexingly intricate sound collages which feature indecipherable instruments, sounding like they could be either computer-created noises or just esoteric analog instruments rummaged from the dusty bin of a thrift store. 4AD

Also gone are the spooky hisses of distant winds punctuated by the delicate breathy speeches of a young English girl. I suppose if you were to look hard enough, you could still find instances of these, but they do not abound nor do they shape the sound of the band as they used to. Piano Magic has always been something of a collaborative effort, with Glen Johnson being the glue holding the collective together since its genesis in 1996. But within each album, there is generally a static nucleus of players, giving each respective album its own aura. 'Writers Without Homes,' however, manages to feature a revolving host of members on each separate song, denying any sort of cohesion to this record.

My main concern with album is its tedium. Each time I listen, I get lost, forget where I am, and even forget what I am listening to. This disorientation is not the good kind, either. The album starts off promisingly enough: "(Music Won't Save You From Anything But) Silence" slithers its way in silently but soon erupts into a cascading wall of guitar and percussion. The next few songs are harmless, as well, but by the fifth song, when nothing so far has really made an impression, I am painfully jarred back to acute awareness by "The Season is Long." As it turns out, the Season is about eight minutes too long, and John Grant from The Czars is the vocalist for the extent of it, creating a song which sounds like it was snatched from some lost Seal and Sting collaboration.

This is by far the low point (positionally, the mid point) of the album, but other songs are not strong enough to rescue this record from being swallowed up by the ocean which was once quite kind to Piano Magic, lending its solemn sounds of waves and buoys to some of the band's best songs. "Dutch Housing," with its French lyrics and staticky beats, sounds very much like a song by the Glen Johnson side project Textile Ranch. The one reassuring exception on the album is "Certainty," which stands toe to toe with the best Piano Magic songs. It starts abruptly with what sounds like the snapping in half of a healthy stalk of celery and gives way to an hypnotic looping keyboard part, eventually accompanied by Caroline Potter's haunting dialog and ending just as abruptly as it begins with the song effectively disintegrating. Given the sole success of this one song in contrast to the rest of the album, it's hard to think of 'Writers Without Homes' as much more than an overly robust CD single.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 February 2011 23:39  


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