Piano Magic Part Monster

[Important; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: British alternative pop, shoegaze, post-punk, mope rock
Others: The Church, The Ocean Blue, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths

Due to the sheer volume of the band’s output and the stylistic diversity of their recordings, providing an adequate description of the music of Piano Magic can prove a difficult endeavor. Generally moody and colored by sepia tones and rainy-day shades of gray, Piano Magic’s back catalog ranges from instrumental film scores to gauzy ambience to songs more closely aligned with conventional pop structure. Part Monster, the band’s seventh full-length record, acts as a sort of homage to the halcyon days of early-'80s British alternative rock. Even without the assistance of the press accompanying the record’s release, it is plain that the influence of classic Rough Trade and Factory Records releases upon the band on this particular outing is profound.

The band establish an undeniably melancholic tone on “The Last Emperor,” the album’s opener. Between vocalist Glen Johnson’s Ian Curtis-inflected vocal stylings and lyrics that distinctly convey a sense of dour, Thatcher-era discontent, the track fits nicely, if anachronistically, with the post-punk pantheon. In fact, “post-punk” is the operative descriptor throughout Part Monster, which liberally employs Peter Hook-style bass lines, icy keyboards, and reverb-drenched guitars run though flanger, stereo chorus, and the entire gamut of effects pedals. Other tracks, such as “The King Cannot be Found,” even venture into gothic rock territory with their angular, minor-key guitar phrasing. The album’s packaging itself seems to suggest the workings of some 4AD Records-meets-Beggars Banquet mope-rock hybrid, with ghostly photographs and indistinct, leaden images of urban decay.

Metropolitan discontent is a major theme throughout Part Monster, which is packed with brooding yarns describing failed city life, steeped in gloomy, atmospheric production (courtesy of Guy Fixsen) that feature lyrics such as “Cities and factories spread across the furrowed land/ But still I’m lost/ And the soil is as cold as the moon/ And the trees are as dead as a ghost.” As if in emulation of The Smiths, the band even tries its hand at the anti-monarchy polemic on “England’s Always Better (As You’re Pulling Away)” Speaking of Morrissey, the singer’s indelible influence is present and accounted for on “Halfway Through,” a gorgeous track that, however idolatrous, certainly leaves an impression upon the listener. “Saints Preserve Us” sounds like Q. Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” if it had been performed by A Flock of Seagulls, only with lyrics that are considerably more saturnine (e.g. “You’ve been living your life like you’re fixing to die”).

Yes, Part Monster is derivative, but however much Piano Magic may ape the posturing of the black-clad, navel-gazing frontmen of yore (that is, after all, the point, isn’t it?), the record is a haunting, beautifully composed series of tracks that insinuates its way into your consciousness and stays there. And that’s by no means an unpleasant thing.

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