Though they've named their debut album Memphis, the young band the Magic Kids have taken a path that doesn't have much precedent on the local indie scene. Rather than work their way through several self-released or local-label albums, the band was snatched up quickly by True Panther, a subsidiary of heavyweight national indie Matador, which had previously boasted breakout indie band Girls.
Recorded locally at Doug Easley's studio, Memphis builds on the promise of the band's early singles (particularly "Hey Boy" on Goner) and joyous live show and ratifies the band's quick rise from fledgling local act to national buzz band.
On Memphis, the Magic Kids (Bennett Foster, Alex Gates, Will McElroy, Michael Peery, and Ben Bauermeister, with Scandaliz Vandalistz' Alice Buchanan and Katherine Dohan apparently auxiliary members) showcase their genial, ramshackle deployment of myriad traditional, pre-punk influences: Peppermint Twist rhythms, Foster's Lou Christie-style near-falsetto lead vocals, Beach Boys melodies, girl group harmonies, twinkling Phil Spector touches, orchestral settings.
None of this really has much to do with Memphis, but what does is that the band doesn't appear cowed by its influences or overly impressed with itself for having them. There's a naturalness to their approach — a musical command without pretension, self-consciousness, or undue reverence — common to the best roots-oriented local bands the Magic Kids grew up around. (Why do they fit in so well on the generally noisier and more aggressive Goner scene? This is why.)
Befitting their "little symphonies for teenagers" vibe, the band's romances are sweet and earnest. On the opening "Phone Song" (which carries faint traces of '60s pop band Herman's Hermits), Foster promises, "I'll be waiting here right by the phone/I'll be waiting here until you come home." On the more overtly Spectorian "Hey Boy," Foster is lured into the mix by Buchanan and Dohan sweetly prodding that his girlfriend needs some attention.
But befitting true teen-love songs, innocence and carnality co-exist on romantic metaphors like "Candy" ("She lingers on the tip of my tongue and then melts away") and "Superball" ("I used to play with it for hours in the sun ... yeah, you were always on my mind").
These romances play out against a Memphis presented as a relaxed, sunny playpen, with locations such as the Summer Drive-in and Skateland name-checked and titles such as "Summer," "Radio," and "Hideout" adding to the vibe. — Chris Herrington
Memphis will be released Tuesday, August 24th, and the Magic Kids will celebrate by performing a benefit concert for the Memphis Youth Symphony that night at the Levitt Shell. The band also will play the Rock for Love concert at the Hi-Tone Café on Friday, August 20th. See page 22 for more details.
Fronted by Joe "Joecephus" Killingsworth, Joecephus & the George Jonestown Massacre explore a musical world whose four corners are whiskey, weed, noise, and defiance. Despite invoking honky-tonk god George Jones in the band's name, their mix of outlaw country, Southern rock, and metal is more in the spirit of Hank III, and the deity Joecephus worships in song — in "WWLD" the "L" is Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister — is more in line with his worldview and vocal range. (Though perhaps George and Lemmy could both identify with Joecephus' dilemma of being too drunk to get high.)
With spacy nine-minute noise-collage experiment "The Trip (1996)" the lone exception, the songs on Hell or High Water are all under three and a half minutes, and most thrash in at two and a half or less. The group finds its raucous groove as a guitar band on several occasions: the aggressive, bluesy excursions of "Hit the Road," the more-metallic Skynyrd opening riffs on "Honky Tonkin Ways," the heavy lumber that smacks you around at the outset of "Confusion 2." But Killingsworth's rough, agitated vocals can be a chore even in a format where you expect them to be. — CH
Joecephus & the George Jonestown Massacre celebrate the release of Hell or High Water at the Poplar Lounge on Friday, August 20th.