Saturday, May 9, 2009


(This article was originally written for the website Muso's Guide)

Side projects: they’re often a great thing. In their most positive manifestations, they provide members of established bands with the opportunity to cut loose and try out new musical ideas, freed from the constraints of working within a band with a strict aesthetic or freed from the expectations and pressures emanating from an established fanbase.

However, less successful examples of the side project bring out the more negative connotations of the term: inferiority, lack of ambition, lack of vitality etc. Unfortunately, Magnetic Morning tend toward the latter, despite featuring the combined talents of Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino and Swervedriver singer/guitarist (and active solo artist) Adam Franklin. They release this debut long-player on the back of 2007’s self-titled EP, initially only available on iTunes but receiving a belated physical release last year.

For the most part, A.M. is frustratingly slight and listless: opener ‘Spring Unseen’, for example, with its shoegaze-lite guitar washes, reverb-heavy production and Crowded House-style melodies, is a pleasant enough listen, but not the kind of sound that’s going to grab your attention from the off. That theme recurs throughout the album, with tracks like ‘Come Back’ and ‘Out In The Streets’ proving so insubstantial and lethargic that it’s difficult to imagine how the musicians stayed awake long enough to complete their takes. Matters aren’t helped by Franklin’s pallid vocals: while in Swervedriver his limitations were masked, and indeed made irrelevant, by that band’s abiding aesthetic of guitar assault and distortion, here the weaknesses of his voice are cruelly exposed. As a result, music that’s already crying out for an injection of personality is only lent a further air of blandness.

If all that sounds unnecessarily harsh, the album’s not without redeeming characteristics. ‘At a Crossroads, Passive’ features atmospheric, spindly guitar lines reminiscent of Fogarino’s parent band, and a grandstanding, string-led crescendo; ‘No Direction’ is a breezy slice of power-pop that calls to mind Elliott Smith or Fountains Of Wayne; while ‘The Wrong Turning’ is probably the standout track, based around an imposing piano hook and benefiting from a vocal performance that provides some much needed soul. They also attempt a translation of Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ on ‘Motorway’, but the result is nothing much to write home about, replacing the impalpable sense of wonder that infused the original with a workmanlike FM-radio treatment.

If casual fans are unlikely to be reigned in by A.M., then the same can also be said of fans of either musician’s previous work: there’s none of the dark urban glamour of Interpol or the euphoric noise of Swervedriver, just the sound of two friends making music that, if occasionally agreeable, is ultimately hamstrung by its utter lack of tension, chemistry or vigour.


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