A single guitar and then it hits. “There are days…,” Philip Benson sings, and, if you’re like so many people in the Bay Area, you’re already hooked by the sound of San Francisco’s Magic Bullets. Were there any justice in the world, this band would be all over the radio and, while they’re not there just yet, their debut album, a CHILD but in life yet a DOCTOR in love, is receiving a strong response from critics and music fans alike. It’s a very strong debut, loaded with the sort of pop songs that catch your ear immediately, but are so textured it must be quite difficult to get sick of hearing them.
When you hear “Yesterday’s Seen Better Days,” the album’s opening track, it probably isn’t evident that the band is a six-piece, a group which began in 2004 as a side project for Benson and guitarist and primary songwriter Corey Cunningham from their other band The Cosmos. As Magic Bullets quickly developed into a full-time project, the guys recruited ex-Cosmos guitarist Ryan Lynch, as well as Colin Dobrin, Matthew Kallman, and Nathan Sweatt; the band benefits from the members’ strong musical abilities.
Six members, but no wall of sound, as dynamics are central to the band’s songwriting. Instruments emerge and drop out for maximum impact, rather than maximum volume, as does Benson’s voice, which stands as its own unique instrument. Lyrically, too, dynamic shifts play a central role, as Benson is equally adept at understatement and melodrama, often weaving through both in a single song. In either event, he seems to play the observer more than the main character, offering in the chorus of “Heatstroke” that “people refuse to make do when they lose”
“Heatstroke” is the second song on the album, and it confirms the band’s songwriting skill while employing a different set of sounds. The whole approach, a conventionally-instrumented rock band effortlessly deconstructing and rebuilding songs all while retaining pop melodies reminds me very much of The National’s Alligator, a record which similarly appeals first with a catchiness masquerading as simplicity and then over time as each song’s various pieces unfold.
Almost as refreshing, though, is the band’s sense of music history, with a sound that builds upon ’80s new wave rock while so many groups seem content to sulk in predictable post-punk gloom. Reminiscent far more of the pure pop of Orange Juice and mid-period Talking Heads than Joy Division, Magic Bullets have shared stages with bands like Voxtrot and The French Kicks, and I think all three share a certain romantic pop kinship.
The Bullets guys have already written a significant number of songs for a second record, many of which they perform at live shows. The Bay Bridged is presenting the band’s next concert, which features them alongside two other great San Francisco groups with a similar knack for melodic pop, Music for Animals and Dreamdate.
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell Street San Francisco, CA 94109 Saturday Sept. 1st 8PM Cover: $12 All Ages with Music for Animals, Dreamdate and Transfer
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