Review by Thom Jurek
Dark Stars by Brooklyn's White Magic may be a stopgap on the way to album number two, but these four songs totaling nearly 21 minutes offer the static structural moments of their debut album while investigating some interesting new textural surfaces. For starters, Mira Billotte, who wrote three of these tunes, is stretching her voice, lyrics, and even song frames into more psychedelic rock and space age country-blues territory than acid folk. Dirty Three drummer Jim White, on skins for three of these tunes, adds immeasurable warmth and presence to the sometimes icy sounds found on previous releases. He is always way up in the mix and his rubber-band-dancing manner on the drums creates more dimension; it serves as a handhold for the listener to grab onto. This is particularly true on the opener, "Shine on Heaven." "Very Late," with its nine-note scalar opening up and down, written in waltz tempo, walks the line between Appalachian old-timey folk -- as if written for a Tim Burton film -- and the country-blues. But it's nearly gothic in its tension and appearance, with White's bass drums and brushes snare, Doug Shaw's guitars layered on top of one another, and his organ haunting the backdrop of Billotte's piano. "Poor Harold" is an acid-damaged parlor song, written for the sitting area of a circus performer's trailer. It features vibraslap, a crinkly snare drum by Shaw, a nightmare piano, and melodica with whooping, off-the-rail singing and tempo changes that will make the listener dizzy. Guess that drone got left in a ditch somewhere. Finally, Shaw's lone songwriting contribution, "Winds," is based on a very skeletal electric guitar and piano pattern in the melody. Billotte's vocal has some kind of delay on it to stretch the pastoral feel of the intro to the breaking point, until Shaw answers, with the verse, and they play on, call and response, circular, repetitive, and the drone. It's monotonous, but a welcome change from the inside-out Diane Arbus-like morality tale of "Poor Harold." "Winds" is pretty, because it's so simple, but clocking in at 5:29, it just goes on way too long. This feels more like an interlude than a song. A nursery rhyme with no variation, it only offers diversion when a high-string guitar enters near the end to restate the same theme in a different way. When all is said and done here, there are some real problematic moments on this set, and they underscore everything that seems to be going wrong with the acid folk generation's musical ideas -- or lack thereof. There are two excellent moments here, and they are the first two tracks. As a 45, this would have been ideal; as it stands, it leaves the listener rather empty and uncertain as to why this duo would release something as incomplete and flawed as this.