Relaxed without reclining, romantic without being soppy, old fashioned without any sense of the archaic, Magiclands is the kind of record that even if you were to look hard for reasons to dislike it you would be hard pressed to find any. It has tunes, it has a finely balanced interplay between its male/female voices, it is smart where you want it to be. What’s not to like?
Which isn’t to say everyone’s going to love it: mid-tempo, drolly-delivered guitar pop that leans country enough to make it clear they’re not afraid of a checked shirt and belt buckle might seem pedestrian to some. I Heard Your House Burnt Down even slips in a banjo just under the radar and some bent note guitar, and there’s a couple of Golden Guitar winners last week who should ask to record it so they lift their standards.
Furthermore, a lineage that encompasses Brisbane (oh yes, they’ve heard The Go-Betweens, and they’re old enough to have seen them too), Sydney (picture the Hummingbirds leaning into the side of them that covered Sister Golden Hair), and Melbourne (I can hear the same soil as Glenn Richards and Coloured Girls-era Paul Kelly), as well as Christchurch and Edinburgh, will strike some as hardly the sound of 2023.
Let’s face it, there will be plenty who will see that Angela’s late night lonelytown ambience practically hums a man walking in a Vinnies jacket, collar popped to keep out the evening chill, on the way to putting his favourite mournful ‘80s balladeer on repeat.
This may induce an eye roll or two, but let me repeat this: even if this isn’t your thing, Magiclands is at all times a record that smooths its path to acceptance.
When Rise Up: Love And Insurrection toughens up its guitar and firms up its drums, in keeping with a declaration that we can’t “let the fascists win”, the voices almost coo at us and we are reminded that as well as insurrection that song title includes the word love. Likewise, Island Of the Dogs twists a bit of funkiness inside a chiming exterior and puts its tempo on forward thrust but locks that into a cruising momentum that encourages you to pull up beside it rather than racing ahead and demanding you keep up.
There is nostalgia here, lyrically, but it works more in ambience than some dominating rearview. It’s memory and sense and tone, and done well that can circumvent the pitfalls of specific imagery. That’s why the grandfather wisdom embedded in the liquid, slow surf song, Don’t Ever Turn Your Back Upon The Waves, arrives as a hushed rather than wearied recall.
The waves end the album just as they started it: invitingly, with some caution, but clear appeal that overrides that. Blackbirds FC do likewise.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Blackbirds FC - Magiclands
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Blackbirds FC - Magiclands