Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Jacob Magers' folk-inspired pop tunes mostly succeed.

December 10, 2009

I often wonder how artists title things. It’s become a little less of a mystery since I started writing my own albums, but I’m still boggled sometimes. Jacob Magers’ EP Pendulums is named after not only the least entertaining song on his EP, but the only one that relies on a gimmick.

See, Jacob Magers’ folk-inspired music is melodic, spacious, and engrossing; from the choir of “ah”s opening up “Point of Reference” to the trumpets on “Shanghai,” this EP is faultlessly entertaining. Except. Except. The title track “Pendulums” uses what sounds like an inverted and backwards loop of “Life in Technicolor” by Coldplay as its basis. It sounds weird, and it doesn’t contribute to the song at all. The song that follows after the goofy gimmick is solid, but it’s tarnished by the spectre of the odd loop. I have no clue why Magers chose to use the weird loop, or why he chose to use it as the title track, because there are wonders to behold elsewhere.

Jacob Magers is a supreme storyteller, and the best moments of this album are the most fully-realized stories. “Overboard and Down” is the last thoughts of a drowning sailor; “Smiling at Strangers” is the tragic tale of a woeful bet. “Shanghai,” the highlight of the EP, is the tale of two separated lovers longing to get back together.

The songwriting in “Shanghai” makes the tale pop with excellence, as Magers eschews stripped down folk antics for a more fully-realized sound, reminescent of Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos or maybe even I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes. There are trumpets, violins,  twinkling electric guitar, bass guitar, and even a drum kit filling out the song. It sounds wonderful. It’s easily the best track here, as Magers sounds the most comfortable within the confines of the song. That confidence makes the melodies glow with a warmth and passion that are hinted at throughout the album. When Magers calls out “No, no, no!” and the violins pick up his sorrow with frantic bowing, it feels like the Decemberists but without the jagged edges.

In short, the best songs here are pop songs full of warmth and good storytelling. Magers’ voice and guitar produce melodies that are simply enjoyable. Other than that very odd track in the middle of the EP, Magers’ Pendulums is quite an exciting and well-realized piece. I hope to hear more from him.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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