FR | EN | NL

ARCHIVES | 2006 | MUSIC | PIANO MAGIC


Biography

From its conception as a bedroom studio hobby in Summer 1996, Piano Magic's trajectory has never been textbook. Random at best.

Originally a self-confessed "revolving door" operation (musicians arriving, contributing and leaving as they pleased), Piano Magic had already released a catalogue of varied singles, EPs and two albums by 1998.

This convey-belt membership also resulted in a plethora of sonic stylings, from smallbeat Kraftwerkian "Meccano Pop" on debut album, 'Popular Mechanics' (1997) to the breathless, ethereal, multi-layered melancholy of 'Low Birth Weight' (1998).

Only when founder member Glen Johnson met Spanish drummer Miguel Marin in 1999 did Piano Magic resemble anything like a conventional format group. Smooth-talked into playing a Dutch festival "which actually turned out quite well," they decided to play anywhere they were wanted and began to build something of a cult following, particularly on the European Continent.

 

photo1

 

Ironically, the band have never infiltrated the hearts of the British music press - out of time, unfashionable and kinda weird looking, it's best not to stay home much. Tours of Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, France, Spain peppered the next few years.

Marin left after an ill-fated stint with 4AD for which the group delivered their most critically contentious work, 'Writers Without Homes' and the soundtrack to Spanish director, Bigas Luna's 'Son De Mar' movie.

Philosophical about the experience, the band regrouped, drafted in French musicians, Jerome Tcherneyan and Franck Alba and recorded 'The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic,' for the tiny Spanish independent label Green Ufos. This album perfectly encapsulated the live sound of the group - delicate vocals, glistening guitars, insistent drums, anthemic synth washes.

 

photo2

 

A new record, 'Saint Marie EP' followed in June 2004 and featured collaborations with lost 60's folk heroine Vashti Bunyan, Alan Sparhawk from Low and Ben Ayres from Cornershop. A cast who only serves the notion further that Piano Magic are now, more than ever, a band of some celestial importance.

Piano Magic's new album, 'Disaffected,' revisits the depth and dynamics of 'The Troubled Sleep Of' whilst at the same time stretching fingers into an even more melodic, practically "pop" sound. It features guest vocal contributions from John Grant of The Czars and Angèle David-Guillou of Klima.

To date, Piano Magic has harboured over 60 sonic orphans with nothing better to do, recorded 6 'proper' albums, a double CD retrospective and many, many singles.

They've outlived several of the labels they've recorded for and show no signs of stopping. That's for sure what they're gonna prove at the Rhâââ Lovely Festival, for this exclusive Belgian show!

 

Discography

-) 1997 : 'Popular Mechanics' on I/Che.

nom_image

 

-) 1998 : 'Low Birth Weight' on Rocket Girl.

nom_image

 

-) 2000 : 'Artists' Rifles' on Rocket Girl.

nom_image

 

-) 2001 : 'Son De Mar — Music From The Film by Bigas Luna' on 4AD.

nom_image

 

-) 2001 : 'Seasonally Affective 1996-2000 A Piano Magic Retrospective' on Rocket Girl.

nom_image

 

-) 2002 : 'Writers Without Homes' on 4AD.

nom_image

 

-) 2003 : 'The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic' on Green Ufos.

Comes With A Smile's point of view :

The stark stall is set from the very start with the sublime Saint Marie, as Johnson whispers with self-descriptive deprecation, in near a cappella fashion, “Out of season / Out of heart,” before the band whip up a soaring wave of shimmering guitars and crisp digital drums, which swerve between the speakers in deliciously disorientating fashion. The Unwritten Law follows in a more pastoral setting, as David-Guillou intones some insomnia-wracked thoughts with jaw-dropping grace; “How can you sleep / With my heart so loud? / I could scream in a jar / Like the sound of a crowd.” The heartache continues on the stunning Speed The Road, Rush The Lights (reprised from the recent EP of the same name), in which Johnson enunciates the rage and mental strain incurred by a long-distance relationship. “Geography be kind to me / For the miles apart are killing me / Tonight I would die to be by your side,” he murmurs before unleashing the full force of Piano Magic’s guitar/bass/drum/synth artillery as previously deployed on the deadly brilliant (Music Won’t Save You From Anything But) Silence (the sole racket-making moment from ‘Writers Without Homes’). David-Guillou guides the band back on to calmer musical seas, with the ambient shades of Help Me Warm This Frozen Heart, but her vocals are so chillingly lachrymose that the effect is equally as unsettling.

Things plunge into deeper and darker waters as Johnson takes on vocal duties for the weighty centre section of the record. On the bleakly beguiling I Am The Teacher’s Son, a lifetime’s worth of regret raises to the surface, though with more oblique wordplay than used elsewhere on the record, “Wrote a novel in my twenties / Though it never left my head / A thousand words a sentence / Until all the characters were dead.” Cavernous and desolate drums usher in the vicious discontent that is barely concealed in The End Of A Dark, Tired Year, as Johnson turns on the city he currently calls home; “London is fucked / A busted bike with rusted gears.” The eerie violins which drive The Tollbooth Martyrs are sad and mournful enough already, before Johnson delivers a poignant eulogy to lives sucked into dead-end occupations; “From college to dole / To tollbooth cashier / Live their lives through diaries.” Johnson says it all on When I’m Done, This Night Will Fear Me, when he sings “Black just got blacker” as his band move things along at a grinding funereal pace. The languorous and lurching Luxembourg Gardens (also a former EP cut) draws together the album’s cyclical feelings of anger, loss and longing as Johnson and David-Guillou duet with disturbing openness. But it’s the closing Comets that really marks out ‘The Troubled Sleep of…’ as Piano Magic’s most profound (and arguably best) full-length release. Over a bare electronic throb on a light bed of acoustic guitars, David-Guillou delivers the heart-lodged-in-throat lines “You should always tell them you love them / In case you never see them again” with a ghost-like wisdom in her voice.

Troubling this album maybe, but a disappointment it is not. If it were to be the last ever Piano Magic album (as the press release alarmingly implies) then there really couldn’t be a more fitting and formidable epitaph to this great band than this utterly spellbinding collection of bittersweet and savagely beautiful songs.

Adrian Pannett - website.

nom_image

 

-) 2005 : 'Disaffected' on Green Ufos / Talitres.

Pitchfork's point of view :

Early this year Piano magic released Opencast Heart, a nice four-song EP that found leader Glen Johnson setting his songs in front of a completely electronic backdrop. Following that fruitful experiment Piano Magic return with Disaffected, an overwhelmingly song-oriented record built mostly around typical rock band instrumentation. And it's a good one-- perhaps Piano Magic's strongest full length since Low Birth Weight.

Glen Johnson's always-meticulous attention to sonic detail this time focuses on the emotional possibilities of guitar tone. The snarling leads in "You Can Hear the Room" allude to that point when the gauzy beauty of shoegaze meets the drop-D heft of grunge, and though the lyrics talk about "the whisper of the pipes" this is one of the loudest songs Piano Magic has recorded. Another massive guitar swell closes "Love & Music", reflecting the song's simple theme ("love and music 'til I die") with a sexy wall of trebly chords. Much is made of the influence of the 4AD and Factory labels on Piano Magic, and it's hard to hear the evocative echo-chamber tone of "Night of the Hunter" as anything but channeled Durutti Column. On the simple ballad "I Must Leave London" Johnson's acoustic is wet and lush as Hyde Park grass in a November drizzle.

Disaffected can fairly be called a rock album, but two of the most interesting songs depart from the template. The title track is the only song with female vox, sung this time by Angèle David-Gillou, and through its main section it weds acoustic guitars to a simple drum machine beat. The four-minute coda, however, allows the electronic percussion to take the lead, as beats grow progressively syncopated and the rest of the music drops out save an occasional vocal sample. Even dancier is "Deleted Scenes", which appears halfway through and is then reprised as the record's final track in an extended remix. Possibly Disaffected's best song, "Deleted Scenes" is icy new wave with a classicist's reverence for the feel and clarity of the early 80s originals, from Johnson's Bernard Sumner croon to the primitive synths and cheesy (but effective) vocodered chorus refrain. The extended mix is the one to listen for, with a funky electronic drum jam dominating the final three minutes that playfully shuffles the sort of quasi-industrial percussion hits Depeche Mode used in "People are People".

Interesting thing about Piano Magic is that while the band's overall aesthetic-- music, lyrics and visual presentation-- is so well defined and consistent, the actual records are all over the place. We know we're going to get sad introspection, that the songs will take place in winter, that the production will somehow bring to mind the word "ethereal," and the packaging will look good. The details, however, are always up in the air, which possibly explains the band's inconsistency. This time out the pieces land in a satisfying place.

Mark Richardson - website.

nom_image

 

Audio

A few tracks can be downloaded here.

-) Saint Marie, taken from 'The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic'.
-) Night of the hunter, taken from 'Disaffected'.

 

Web

-) Official site.
-) Myspace.
-) 4AD.
-) Green Ufos.
-) Rocket Girl.
-) Talitres.