Dec 31, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
With Y2K-nostalgia in full swing, it was only a matter of time before somebody seized on the aesthetics of the turn-of-the-century internet-obsessed. That band is newcomers Magdalena Bay. They teased their debut, Mercurial World, with a host of retro websites, music videos, and surreal and hilarious Tik Toks, adding to their ranks of terminally online pop fans through copious amounts of fish-eye lenses and neon colors. But though the rollout was decidedly retro, the L.A.-based duo’s record is entirely of its moment.
The band have been building to their debut for years, amassing a cult following of in-the-know pop fans. With Mercurial World, the duo are making their case to join the ranks of up-and-coming pop luminaries like Kero Kero Bonito and Caroline Polachek. Their digitized synth pop stylings could fit in well with the likes of Charli XCX and Grimes, yet they hold space for inspiration from 2010s indie pop like MGMT and CHVRCHES. They’re neither completely indebted to the sounds of the past nor completely lost to the digital aether. Rather, Magdalena Bay have managed to occupy a space all their own. In that space, they’ve constructed the titular Mercurial World.
In this world, the temporal boundaries of pop music shift and blur. Disco rhythms, vaporwave aesthetics, finely tuned 2000s pop hooks, and even chirping video game soundtracks all make an appearance, blended together into a dizzying pop concoction. The title track and “Dawning of the Season” are pure synth pop bliss, capped off with the latter’s anthemic pop key change. “Secrets (Your Fire)” then throws back to the ‘70s with a propulsive funk bassline and a startlingly detailed glittering climax.
However, just as soon as the band lay out their inspirations they begin to shift around them, incorporating bursts of strings into the electronic beats of “Something for 2” and blown-out noise pop hooks to accompany the chiptune electronics on “You Lose.” Meanwhile, “Prophecy” feels like a digitized baroque pop Disney ballad, only to follow with the robotic vocals and pounding electronic instrumental of “Follow the Leader.”
While the band doesn’t necessarily reinvent these genres, they do manage to cover a lot of stylistic territory. They knit together the past 40 years of pop while blurring the edges between them for a seamless flow. Their world of glitchy ballads and simmering pop anthems is remarkably cohesive and sequenced brilliantly. Each song falls one into another, with even the closer, “The Beginning,” leading right into the chirping intro, “The End,” almost as if the band are inviting you to stay for another listen.
As inviting as the band’s offer to get lost in their world is, there also is a certain existential dread layered over their lyrics. If there’s one throughline between Magdalena Bay and their fellow hyper-online contemporaries, it’s their shared attempts to reckon with the alienation of our constantly shifting world. “Secrets (Your Fire)” unpacks the tension between the band’s desire for privacy and the compulsive drive to share and consume online content. Elsewhere the band explores fittingly melodramatic existential questions on “Hysterical Us” and desperate attempts to find purpose and meaning on “Prophecy” and “Follow the Leader.” The underlying truths of the record are found as the band searches for a place within our shared mercurial world. Their best answer comes with “The Beginning”一“So if you feel low/Sit back, enjoy the show/Like a kaleidoscope/In Technicolor tonight.”
Even with all its ambitious themes and artful genre explorations, the appeal behind Mercurial World is fundamental and immediate; Magdalena Bay are quite simply talented pop songsmiths. Their debut is first and foremost a smartly crafted record, full of irresistible melodic hooks and detailed production. The results are all-enveloping and mesmerizing, crafting a glittery pop landscape with plenty of layers to uncover and unexpected new territory to explore with each listen. That kaleidoscopic Technicolor trip Magdalena Bay offers on “The Beginning” is one that is well worth taking. (www.mercurialworld.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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