The Magic Lantern
ou get the feeling that if the spell that Suzy Mangion intones at the beginning of the debut LP from George is done wrong that the magic lantern may not open to reveal all of its glory. Luckily for her and listeners alike, “The Title Song” gets it exactly right with the sort of apologia found in gothic novels of the late nineteenth century. Mangion’s unwavering, but delicate, voice downplays her ability to affect the listener, hoping against hope that the words of her mouth and the meditations of our hearts will be enough to only connect a little of the message that she and Michael Varty are attempting to bring to us. As you might have guessed by the rating above, they have succeeded admirably.
The Magic Lantern’s main tenet is, above all, to simplify at all costs. Rarely do more than three instruments, including vocals, play at once. Rhythms are stated and make their way throughout the songs without changing their pace or timbre. Melodies are begun and explored with slight variations for effect. Instead, the focus on minute changes and the naked vocals of Mangion are often the key to each song. The duo, however, works just as easily with a number of instrumentals- many of them interlude length.
The first lengthy indication that the group is creating something of a masterpiece comes in the form of “Alone in the Country Heart,” which sounds like, instead of adding a percussion accompaniment, that the group took to methodically sawing wood while two competing guitars interlock and argue lightly with one another, until an understated final touch is added by two string instruments. This is followed up by an instrumental composed merely of a music box melody, playing the same forlorn loop until it quietly fades into the background- a tender postscript to the sentimentality of “Alone…”
If one track had to be picked from the rest, however, it would have to be “The Track Through the Woods.” Sounding like a hymnal Fairport Convention, Mangion’s lead vocal is buoyed by Varty for help at key moments. And while no hymn would ever contain the line “I will stop crying, if you crush me,” there remains a palpable sense of spirituality to the proceedings. The overall effect of Mangion’s and Varty’s vocals combined with the painfully simple instrumental tracks lends the album a sort of quiet grace found too seldom elsewhere.
There are slight missteps. The reliance on the vocals of Varty to carry the track “Bandstand” does not pan out, while the amusement park carousel sounds of “Whirlgig” are more twee than naive. Additionally, the bass of “Slow Wave Sleep” disturbs the flow of the album in its intensity. But, if these minor quibbles are the only major criticisms that can be leveled at the album, then there is little worry to be had. Instead, what should be celebrated here is the fact that the group has taken their sweet time in creating a debut album of unbelievable emotional depth and grand simplicity.
“Do You Know A Music?” I do now.