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The Magic I.D. - I’m So Awake / Sleepless I Feel

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Artist: The Magic I.D.

Album: I’m So Awake / Sleepless I Feel

Label: Staubgold

Review date: May. 12, 2011

I’m So Awake/Sleepless I Feel is the second album by The Magic I.D., following the groundbreaking Till My Breath Gives Out (Erstpop, 2008). The Berlin-based quartet has retained the same line-up as on that debut: Margareth Kammerer on vocals and guitars, Christof Kurzmann on vocals, g3 and lloopp, Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke on clarinets. Fagaschinski and Kurzmann also played together in the duo Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone, whose First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Quincunx, 2007) made stunning use of a Roberta Flack sample alongside their improvisations. Kurzmann is also half of the duo Schnee/Neuschnee with Burkhard Stangl. All of these groupings share one key feature: their music combines improvisation with song forms in an unusual amalgam.

I’m So Awake/Sleepless I Feel continues in the same vein. The voices and clarinets combine with acoustic guitar and electronics to create distinctive soundscapes that sound unlike any other contemporary band. With no bass or drums, they are rhythmically light and loose, the strummed guitar carrying the rhythm, with occasional electronic rhythms adding a pulse.

Central to the group’s unique sound are the twin clarinets of Fagaschinski and Thieke, who also record and gig together under the name The International Nothing. They intersperse snatches of melodic playing with sustained notes, creating background drones that act as a solid foundation for the rest of the music. Their unison playing at the start of “Weary” is particularly haunting and beautiful.

Much of the songs’ melodic content is carried by the contrasting voices of Kammerer and Kurzmann, which complement each other well. Alone, each has a distinctively expressive voice; when they combine in harmony or indulge in call-and-response (he on the right–hand channel, she on the left), the effect is spine tingling. The songs vary greatly in style and lyrical content. Some, such as “In My Dreams,” have a definite narrative thread, while others are more impressionistic and diffuse. After several hearings, melodies that were not immediately memorable become increasingly so, revealing the craft with which they were constructed.

The least typical piece is also the most intriguing. “Eric Kicks” has a strict electronic tempo that contrasts starkly with the looseness of the album’s other tracks. Close listening reveals that the song is “an ode to Eric Dolphy and his clarinet.” It name-checks many Dolphy album and song titles, weaving them in with observations about Dolphy and his work, thus: "‘Outward Bound’, ‘Here and There’ albums full of human despair / ‘cause ‘Looking Ahead’ at the ‘Fire Waltz’ people still thought he was playing it false.” A catchy ditty that easily lodges in the memory, it is poignantly sung by Kurzmann, a heartfelt personal memoire. Kurzmann subtly weaves little quotes of Dolphy into the music, even using a sample of Dolphy himself from “The Quest.”

Such care and attention to detail runs right through the album. The irony is the amount of effort that must have been invested into music that sounds absolutely effortless.

By John Eyles

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