A cleansing metamorphosis captured on record; the result of a search for the self in unknown, yet innately familiar territory.
‘Still Life’ is an example of a record that does not attempt to paint a sprawling picture of a journey undertaken, yet why, when you listen to it, does it feels like it’s trying to take your hand and lead you somewhere? It sounds as if Young Magic is undergoing some growth. While ‘Still Life’ may not instantly give you a reason to keep travelling along with it, it’s somehow gripping. It sounds organic. It’s mixed to a warm, stirring tonal creaminess as opposed to the cold, steely, spiky reverberation of ‘Breathing Statues’ and ‘Melt.’
Opening track ‘Valhalla’ feels like a rebirth, and hints at the album as a point of reinvention for Young Magic; metamorphosis and the self is a key theme of this record.
Birthed from an effort by vocalist Melati Malay to better understand her heritage during a trip to her birthplace of Indonesia, following the passing of her father, the album recounts a tale of realisation, self actualisation and calm.
The dense, syncopated field recordings of ‘Breathing Statues’ and ‘Melt’ are not entirely absent; they are merely used in line with a single thematic concept and feeling, giving the album a oneness that digs under the skin from the first listen. Indonesian instruments are featured prominently, but never in a way that becomes overbearing, gimmicky or distracting. As such, the warmth of the record is a result of the beauty of this instrumentation and the resulting focus and texture of sound and soul washing over us makes ‘Still Life’ eminently accessible.
The first half of the album is a confident textural exercise in pop rhythms, structure and melody. ‘Lucien’ further establishes the use of Indonesian instruments by overlaying them with a subtle, filter-laden heartbeat of a groove. ‘Sleep Now’ is a gift of a tune built around a rhythm that sounds like Washed Out hooked up with Bernie Worrell, went on a trip to Indonesia and sipped from fresh coconuts while jamming with the locals. ‘Iwy’ is a longing ballad that utilises a looping finger harp melody, layered vocals and jazz grooves to plead for understanding.
Somewhere around the sixth track, ‘Default Memory,’ the moment at which the record crosses the idea/reality boundary, it becomes evident that the second half of the album reflects on the attainment of catharsis experienced on the first half, which leads to this record’s one weakness.
There is not quite enough juxtaposition between the attainment of the understanding one is looking for, and the questions that could still be raised, or the loose ends that are still frayed at the end of that journey. It’s just a little too short to let these ideas come to life. The sound and feeling of ‘Still Life,’ however, is triumphant and moreish. It makes the brief running time a fairly minor issue, and to be fair, the length of the piece will keep you coming back when you’re surprised that it’s over.
On ‘Still Life,’ we witness someone saying goodbye. Goodbye to a parent, and goodbye to the struggle in attempting to gain an understanding of the self. As the penultimate, woozy farewell of ‘Sky Interior’ fades out and the familiar tones of ‘Valhalla (Reprise)’ sets in, the cyclical finish allows us to truly feel as though we have experienced an awakening and it is the sincerity of the retelling that gives the album its success.
Maybe on the next record, we will be given a little more insight into the aftermath of that awakening. If it’s relayed in the same breadth as ‘Still Life,’ then that will surely be another record that you’ll want to start all over again every time it comes to a close.
‘Still Life’ is out now via Carpark.
This Young Magic review was written by Lawottim Anywar, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.