By Allyson Bills
For their first album in three years since 2012‘s A Different Ship, Brooklyn’s Here We Go Magic decided to take DIY approach to their fourth effort Be Small by self-producing this album. Here We Go Magic was inspired by Brian Eno and John Cale’s album Wrong Way Up and Robert Wyatt’s “Shleep” while recording Be Small. The album is a result of an eclectic combustion of Here We Go Magic’s current lineup of singer-guitarist Luke Temple, multi-instrumentalist Michael Bloch and drummer Austin Vaughn.
Be Small begins with a thirty second instrumental clip aptly titled “Intro” consisting of synthesizers that resembles a jet on takeoff. It’s a loud burst which to begin an album, and catches you by surprise because of its abrupt ending. “Intro” doesn’t make sense as how it fits into this album, which is indicative to the hodgepodge nature of Be Small. “Intro” is the predecessor to the album’s second track, “Stella,” an even-tempoed track that is obviously influenced by Eno and Cale’s song “Lay My Love.” “Stella” has a trippy vibe that makes you feel like you are floating, especially with Temple singing, “That Mona Lisa is a vacuum // It sucks you in so you can float in space.” Space wasn’t the first subject that I thought of when I listened to this track; however, it’s definitely a song that is open to imagination. Like “Intro,” “Stella” surprises the listener at the four-minute mark when the song suddenly fades thirty seconds before it ends, despite the rest of the song being upbeat in nature.
The album’s title track, “Be Small,” has a 70s soul vibe that’s very reminiscent of the Bee Gees. For a title track, I found it not to be very memorable or even engaging for that matter. Even Temple’s lyrics are weak on “Be Small,” sprinkled throughout the track of “Be good in the dark” and “Be small just as you are.” For the most part, at least in my experiences of listening to and reviewing albums, album title tracks are supposed to stand out and say “this is the epitome” of the album. “Be Small” accomplished none of this when it had the opportunity to shine. “Falling,” which premiered on Consequence of Sound, is a synthesizer-heavy dance track with an atmospheric introduction, and a diverse amount of tempo changes throughout the track. In the 2:18 mark, there is a build-up to the chorus with Temple’s guitar strums, creating a twangy sound. Then, at the 3:50 point in the song, “Falling” suddenly goes quiet with a random background recording, again without preconception in the song that this was going to happen.
A song about New York City, “Candy Apple” is a catchy psychedelic dance number. There can never be enough songs about the Concrete Jungle, and Here We Go Magic adds another one this city. Again, Temple’s lyrics come up short in “Candy Apple” while he sings “Mushroom falling messages across the Great Divide,” which demonstrates that Here We Go Magic is trying too hard for their own good at being a “70s” band. The tempo changes mid-album with “Girls in the Early Morning,” a smooth, dewey, and even-tempoed number effortlessly floats. Despite this notion, the song isn’t very engaging, except with a synthesizer change at the 1:28 mark, as well a guitar solo from Temple 3:13 minutes into the song.
Here We Go Magic goes “global” on the track “Tokyo London US Korea,” which also premiered on Consequence of Sound along with “Falling.” It’s one of the oddball tracks off Be Small with its insanely electronic vibe and Temple’s monotone vocals presented an accent. “Tokyo London US Korea” is very reliant on both the synthesizers and Bloch’s drums in order to create a “worldly” vibe. If you listen closely, you can hear shade’s of Eno’s and Cale’s song “Footsteps.” It’s one of many songs off Be Small that doesn’t progress sound-wise to any extent, which is a shame because it has potential to be a solid dance track. Yet another brief instrumental number appears in Be Small is “Wishing Well.” It’s a random thirty-three minute track that’s set to background talking and vocals. Just like “Intro,” this instrumental piece is a continuation of this off plethora of songs on Be Small. Apparently, “Wishing Well” is supposed to lead into the next track or give the listen time to process Be Small thus far. Who really knows?
Perhaps the strongest effort off the album is “Ordinary Feeling,” which was mentioned on Stereogum with shades of the some of the Here We Go Magic that I come to know and love. I’m not saying that Here We Go Magic should recreate all their previous albums; however, they appear to be lost sound-wise throughout Be Small. “Ordinary Feeling” brings Here We Go Magic back to earth; a welcoming site. “Ordinary Feeling” is one the slower numbers of Be Small with nice lo-fi vocals, which almost reminds me of Kurt Vile. This song is a wonderful break from the general in-your-face theme of the rest of Be Small. However, this break is short-lived as Here We Go Magic barrels into “News,” a mid-tempo, psychedelic pop dance song. “News” has a 70’s feel with funky bass tones and with a sudden change in distortion at the 3:20 mark that leaves the listener questioning why the song fades away suddenly. There is nothing “newsworthy” about “News.” “Dancing World,” the final track, is a heavily synthesized, slow-ish tune. It’s actually the antithesis of a dance song, and not compelling enough which to end an album.
Be Small isn’t Here We Go Magic’s greatest effort to date as it tries too hard to emulate their said influences on Eno, Cale and Wyatt. Therefore, their originality is lot along the way, and it was difficult for me to fully engage in this album. While I admire Here We Go for taking this particular risk, however, I think they needed an outside producer at times in order to hone their lack of consistency on Be Small. If you are a fan of one of Here We Go Magic’s previous albums, Pigeons or love that in-your-face-70s vide, then Be Small will suit your needs.