Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Album Review: Adult Magic by Adult Magic (by Emma Prew)


Adult Magic are a three-piece alt-rock band from the punk rock mecca that is Long Island, New York. They’re a relatively new band on the scene with one four track EP in their back catalogue from 2016 and their debut self-titled album coming soon but you may well recognise the three members from their various other punk projects. Adult Magic are Jesse Litwa on guitar and vocals (Iron Chic, Broadcaster), Mike Bruno on bass and vocals (Iron Chic, Crow Bait) and Chris Arena on drums (Crow Bait, Sister Kisser). Side note: Someone really needs to make a Pete Frame-style family tree for these bands.

Adult Magic’s debut full length is out on the 21st of June (this Friday!) courtesy of Dead Broke Rekerds (USA) and Specialist Subject Records (UK). Having been a fan of the band for a couple of years already and having pre-ordered the vinyl for this release as soon as it was announced, I was very excited when Specialist Subject sent us over an early copy of the album for review. Did it meet my expectations? We shall see…


First up on the album is Achin’ which was released just last month as the first single from the album. It’s easy to see why this song was chosen, as it’s a catchy, mid-tempo tune with an earworm of a chorus – ‘Aching, my heart is always aching, Shaking, my hands they always. Shake!’ Adult Magic share lead vocal duties between them with Jesse taking the lead here. Achin’ is about suffering from anxiety and doubting many things you do on a day to day basis. It all sounds pretty relatable to me and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The second song is called Losing Face and here Mike takes over on lead vocals. His voice is gruffer than Jesse’s, in fact the two vocals are pretty distinct from one another which is one of my favourite things about the band to be honest. It’s not down to the vocals alone but Losing Face feels darker in tone and much less poppy than the first track. I mean, the line ‘Another year upon the shelf, don't want to die all by myself.’ is pretty dark and hard-hitting. Similar to Achin’, this song looks at the topic of mental health and particularly feelings of low self-esteem.

The Other Side is the third song on the album. It opens fairly slowly with a stop-start groove of a guitar riff that will immediately grab your attention. The vocals feel bitter and reminiscent of fonder times. Jesse’s lyrics really create a vivid picture in your mind – ‘And that night by the park side, I thought that I would see you again, From a lawn chair with your long hair, Watch the clouds keep rolling in, I guess we’ll meet on the other side…’ There are some lovely subtle harmonies in the song and it’s topped off with a great big distorted guitar solo. The fourth song is titled Demotivation. From the outset the rhythm section is loud and clear while the guitar get a bit experimental and almost sci-fi sounding, at least to my ears. Overall this is Adult Magic sounding very 90s alternative rock but they balance it out with a catchy riff and some pleasant Gaslight Anthem-esque wooh ohhs. Demotivation features guest vocals courtesy of Mimi Gallagher (Nona) – ‘I know you see it when you look me in the eye, But do you feel it when we say goodbye.’ – which offer a great contrast with Mike’s gravelly tones. Mimi appears on a number of other tracks too but it’s perhaps most obvious here.

Now, as soon as I first heard the opening notes of Popcorn – and now I can’t unhear it – I thought of The Menzingers’ I Don’t Want To Be An Asshole. Once I got past that however, this is an excellent upbeat Adult Magic track. Upbeat in terms of melody that is, not so much in subject matter. Themes of anxiety are covered again with some really relatable lyrical content making the band seem truly, well, human. ‘Take your time waiting in the grocery line, I never comb my hair, You can’t take me anywhere, And I always fall asleep, When there’s a place to be, Another endless day of anxiety.’ Thru It All opens with a hugely melodic, repetitive guitar riff. Soon the bass and drums kick in as well, before everything else takes a backseat to focus on Jesse’s heartfelt vocals. This is a relatively sombre-sounding track about the decline of a relationship. It’s particularly sad because it feels like the opposite of Broadcaster’s song Wasting Time With You (from the 2013 album A Million Years). The line ‘I’d rather waste my time alone, Than dreaming by the phone.’ generates all the feels. But, let’s face it, I like sad songs so I love this. A real highlight on the album for sure.

The sixth track is called Sign Of The Times. Kicking things off with a big, beefy guitar riff which then continues throughout much of its duration, when the vocals come in they sound completely different – it turns out this is because drummer Chris singing. Either way, this is a head-nodder of a song. Sign Of The Times is about all that’s wrong in the world and with the human race today in general – ‘Time is running out for us, Doomed to repeat the past, If we don’t stop. Now the end is nigh. It’s the sign of the times!’ The gang vocals for that last bit are wonderful. The pace picks up a little for a comparatively heavier sounding track, Many Moons Ago. The gravelly vocals are tough to decipher exact lyrics but there are some pleasant whoas thrown in for contrasting harmonies. Musically, Many Moons Ago sounds much more punk than alt-rock. The song is not too dissimilar to Iron Chic actually, which isn’t a crazy remark given than two thirds of Adult Magic are in Iron Chic. There are more great harmonies to end  the song in which two different sets of lyrics are sung. Top stuff.

Savor is the penultimate track of the album and it is the slowest song of all. There’s immediately an air of sadness – and that’s just from the opening guitar part. The drums are pared back and Jesse’s vocals, which don’t come in until the one minute mark, are heartfelt and feel very personal. Savor is about wanting to do the right thing to make someone you care about happy, all the while not being able to sleep or function with your worry – ‘I just don’t want to let you down.’ Songs don’t have to be played hard and fast to connect with the listener, this is amazing songwriting. We return to a something a tad faster to finish the album however. Always is a mid-tempo tune about missing someone and how it can often feel regretful. The sense of nostalgic storytelling reminds me of Broadcaster which I guess could be said of most of Jesse’s songs but I thought it here more so. Whatever it reminds me of, Always is a fine song to finish with. ‘I just shape-shift around town, The streetlights all go out, Everyone loses their mind from time to time.’ 

Adult Magic’s debut album ticks all the right boxes for me! It will no doubt appeal to punk fans, particularly those that are fans of Iron Chic and such already, and alternative rock alike.

Adult Magic is available to pre-order on Bandcamp now. Also be sure to like the band on Facebook.

This album review was written by Emma Prew.

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