"The tunes are deceptively simple, with Simon & Garfunkel-style melodies, and Temple's sleepy vocals belie a melancholy just beneath the surface ... enough understated soul to give Conor Oberst a run for his money." -- Rolling Stone Developed over a two-month period, Luke Temple's self-titled debut under his new moniker is a remarkable departure from his signature singer-songwriter material. Many of the songs pulse with infectious Afro-beat and Krautrock-influenced grooves, calling to mind classic albums like Remain in the Light and Graceland. In contrast, the instrumental tracks conjure mystical landscapes reminiscent of Popol Vuh's ambience.
Review by Tim DiGravina
Quirky singer/songwriter Luke Temple's first release under the Here We Go Magic byline is just as indie-centric as his previous efforts. Though he mostly ditches the witty delivery and freak-lounge falsetto, there's no mistaking the bedroom recording quality and everything but the kitchen sink, stream of conscious composition. He's merely expanded his horizons, taking on a couple different and somewhat incongruous genres, from Afro-beat pop to freak folk to outright noise collages. The strongest thread holding the album together is the bargain basement production textures that virtually paint a picture of an in-home recording studio with a four-track in one corner and some vintage mikes in another. There's an obvious and immediate nod to the tribal folk pop of Paul Simon with the two opening numbers. "Only Pieces" seems like the lost campfire connection between Simon's African excursions and Animal Collective before they went Technicolor. "Fangela" goes even further into Simon land; it could easily be mistaken for a Shins demo or a Simon & Garfunkel song, if not for the cheap but charming keyboard sounds. It's hard to say if the song would sound better with fuller production or if it would lose too much of its bohemian heart. Either way, it's an engrossing start to the album. Temple definitely knows how to milk the most from his lo-fi setup, blending trance-inducting layers of chiming guitars with his falsetto on "Tunnelvision" into a mesmerizing Wall of Sound. Here, on "I Just Want to See You Underwater," and on the second half of the playful closer "Everything's Big," Temple's voice and the music's fuzzy, spooky pop attack recall his overseas peer Stephen Jones (aka Baby Bird, who began his career with a handful of similarly quirky, touching, lo-fi albums brimming with melody and mystery. A trio of exploratory noise instrumentals could turn off some listeners to the album as a whole, not because they're unaccomplished, but because they lack much sonic similarity to the rest of the songs. They could almost be seen as mini-intermissions, except that they're strangely sequenced close together as three of the last five songs. There's a lot to admire in Here We Go Magic's dreamy, hazy melodies, and it's easy to get lost in the repetitive, minimalist guitar strumming that centers half of the tracks. The somewhat pedestrian instrumentals hold back the album a bit from being the mini-masterpiece it could have been, but when Temple is firing on all cylinders he does indeed go magic.
Luke Temple's first foray into pseudonymical songwriting territory feels as current as did Snowbeast and Hold a Match for a Gasoline World , his prior two records released under his given name. But where those albums-- banjo-centric and cast with Temple's delicately high-pitched voice-- situated him firmly in the realm of borderline-precious indie folkies like Sufjan Stevens and Danielson, Here We Go Magic works with a different form of alchemy. Four-tracked and supposedly cut in "a two-month period of stream-of-consciousness recording," the album filters Temple's psychedelic muse through a much more muted palette: hazy electronic textures, endlessly-spiraling lyrical loops, occasional forays into extended sections of ambience and noise. The title itself indicates that Here We Go Magic might just be a spur-of-the-moment lark between more polished works, but its best points suggest we should only encourage Temple to mess around more in his off-time.
The old-timey waltz "Everything's Big" closes Magic as both a reminder of the first two records and a neat index of the prevailing themes of the current effort: winsome, romantic philosophizing distilled to its very essence, with Temple agape, staring down the immensity of his existence. Opener "Only Pieces" has Temple singing a mantra about mortality awareness ("What's the use in dyin', dyin', if I don't know when?") in a lo-fi wash of xylophone, clip-clopping percussion, and acoustic guitar. If it sounds like a field recording of a ca. 1971 Paul Simon acid trip, it's as much kismet as intent: Temple's vocals throughout the album are cast with a sense of boyish wonder that suggests Simon, but that's only because it's how a lot of young guys sound when they're confronting the enormity of the Big Questions.
The gentle abruptness of "Only Pieces"' conclusion-- it just quietly fades away-- is indicative of Magic on the whole: we don't get proper endings, but brief interruptions in what seem like transmissions straight from Temple's unconscious. The best bits of Magic are, like "Pieces", wispy and repetitive, emerging fully formed, drifting about for a bit, then disappearing. On "I Just Want to See You Underwater", Temple blanches his voice to Perry Farrell territory, and cycles through that phrase alone, mantra-like, as if it matters not to him that anyone actually hears it. All of "Tunnelvision"s woozy vigor is also contained in Temple's undulating vocals, which glide effortlessly between notes over a backing of hiccupping guitars and the comforting sound of drumsticks on a guitar case. The result is a bedroom-folk "Knives Out", which is a good thing. "Fangela", the best and most fully realized track, is where clip-clopping percussion and handclaps share space with glimmering synth flecks, over which Temple's voice offers sympathetic counsel. Only swatches of the lyrics are intelligible ("Look at me," "Feast your eyes," "All is yours") but that's part of the enchantment of magic: A fleeting glimpse of something that might have been transcendent, leaving our minds to fill in what we didn't quite see.
By definition, interior monologues are self-indulgent, and entrancing as it can be at its peaks, 11 minutes of Magic's brief 38 are taken with that trendiest of current indie tropes, the ambient/noise interstitial. Deerhunter, No Age, and Women have all found different ways to let the hiss take over, but Temple doesn't seem to have the same innate knack for this stuff (maybe I'm being too idealistic, but Temple seems too good-natured to simply broadcast white noise), and those moments combine to drag the album down a bit. More specifically, those bits suffer in comparison to those other 27 minutes of Magic: a sculpted version of that same disarming din, with a compassionate interpreter telling us what we're seeing.
— Eric Harvey, March 2, 2009