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Magic Trick - Ruler of the Night

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Artist: Magic Trick

Album: Ruler of the Night

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Jun. 12, 2012

For a guy who spent his formative years listening exclusively to hip hop, Tim Cohen has become a surprising force in pop. Magic Trick is a busman’s holiday from the meatier, guitar-driven Fresh & Onlys, an ephemeral solo project turned semi-solid with the addition of a full-time band. More private, less celebratory than his main gig, with Magic Trick, Cohen finds space for unhurried, introspective balladry and billowy girl harmonies, the yin to Fresh & Onlys’ yang.

A strong female presence is what mainly distinguishes Magic Trick from Cohen’s other projects (Fresh & Onlys, his first solo recording and Black Fiction). Noelle Cahill (Sandwitches) and Alicia Van Heuvel (Aislers Set, Ladybug Transistor, Mystic Chords of Memory) are in the band, murmuring pretty “oohs” and “aahs” in the spaces between Cohen’s wobbly, echo-laced verses. Their bright, soprano backdrop soothes and smoothes the edges of these songs, melding with other trebly sounds so that even darker sentiments are swathed in serenity. “Torture,” the album’s best song, wafts past on a blossom-scented breeze, the sexual longing implied by its title offset by glistening, primary colored textures of synthesizer and xylophone.

Ruler of the Night augments live drumming (that’s James Kim, who has also played with Kelley Stoltz) with programmed beats in a few songs, a subtle reminder of Cohen’s first love. There’s nothing as blatantly (and wonderfully) beat-driven as Black Fiction’s “I Spread the Disease,” but “Invisible at Midnight” rides a side-slipping, multi-toned machine beat through pastoral folk-pop landscapes, a bit of shiny modernity glinting through its 1960s surface.

Subtle differences aside, Magic Trick delivers the same kind of trippy, guitar-jangling, tambourine-shaking pop as Fresh & Onlys, only quieter. “Sunny” is virtually indistinguishable from the other band’s output, which is to say, it’s a bright, positive melody cross-hatched with minor-key shadows, a good time already slipping away in wistful nostalgia.

Perhaps that’s Cohen’s best (not really magic) trick, finding a shaft of sunlight in the melancholy, infusing soft penumbras of sadness with watery hope. “Don’t settle for sadness, malaise or madness,” he murmurs in “Next to Nothing,” just a subdued strum of guitars for accompaniment. Later, a fluting keyboard bit will lift the song into semi-jauntiness, the girls will sing, and light and warmth will flood in. “Ooh, ain’t life been good to you,” they sing in harmonies hardly above breathing volume, and yes, things look surprisingly decent all of the sudden.

By Jennifer Kelly

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