Album Reviews

Magic Arm – Make Lists Do Something

(Peacefrog) UK release date: 18 May 2009

Magic Arm - Make Lists Do Something The thing with being a solo artist is there’s no one else to intervene when one of your ideas is a bit bad. By the time the composer is keyed up enough to excitedly unleash a demo on the unsuspecting ears of friends and family it will have quite possibly fully developed into a monster. But it would take a heart of stone to destroy such optimism.

Manchester based Magic Arm is the musical alter-ego of Marc Rigelsford. Having released a debut EP in June 2007 to widespread critical acclaim, some might argue the full album has been a long time coming. And despite having ticked boxes with all the right new music pioneers such as Zane Lowe, Huw Stephens and Steve Lamacq, Make Lists Do Something is a little flat in places, but, happily, has a crafty and endearing knack of redeeming itself with its unashamed jovial pop edge and intuitive melodies.

Opener and current single, Widths And Heights, has as annoying an intro to any single released thus far in this turbulent year. Built around a grating bass riff and annoying vocal hook, it does not bode well for Magic Arm’s debut album.

But in cascading to a chorus that demonstrates an effortless pop charm, Widths And Heights finds the redemption that so oft grabs the arm of a song about to plummet from a lofty precipice, hauling it back to (musical) safety.

That’s not to say that Make Lists Do Something is a record that lacks ambition or falls down at the slightest hurdle. Recent single Bootsy Bootsy fares better at introducing the minimal and charming folktronica of Magic Arm, and runs like Beck playing with a new toy, or a less mind-bendingly wayward Grampall Jookabox.

Outdoor Games meanwhile is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful, acoustically-adorned garland of melancholy. As the song swells to its conclusion, drums and batty (but ever-subtle) synths formulate a rousing, poignant atmosphere.

Magic Arm purportedly spent a great deal of time getting to grips with Pro Tools before the release of this album, which to the untrained ear can be baffling to say the least. Perhaps as a direct result his drum arrangement is always exciting, and while the sounds he uses could do with touching up, the patterns are consistently enticing without getting all geeky and complicated and compromising accessibility.

The shiniest trophy awarded to Magic Arm’s laborious self-tuition comes in the form of Getting The Way – easily the album’s strongest track. Five and a half minutes of slightly harrowing, intelligently structured folktronica with a perfect and richly textured vocal delivery, it’s very well considered and inspiringly performed. But such highlights too readily find their counterpoint with moments such as the sickeningly annoying melodies and rhythms of Move Out, and the condescending obviousness of The Coach House.

As such, Make Lists Do Something is certainly deserved of exploration, not least for its understated moments of synth/folk pop joy, or its defiant aversion from the mainstream and off-piste tangents. But for all of its merits, it just seems like greater attention to detail, and a larger song bank from which to choose the final cut, could’ve made a brilliant album. As it is, it’s a bit of a let down.

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Magic Arm – Make Lists Do Something
Magic Arm – Bootsy Bootsy EP