True Panther, 2010

Ever since the Beach Boys, “summer music” has painfully specific connotations: effervescent, harmonious pop of the four-minutes-or-less variety, tiny bursts of full-speed-ahead energy to soundtrack parties, late night hang-outs, and, if you’re geographically blessed, beach bashes. Magic Kids make “summer music.” The song’s topics are hardly frivolous (mostly relationships, both highs and lows), but the tone is blasé as well as sunny. At least in my part of the globe the release of Memphis coincides aptly with a massive heat wave. But I have a feeling the Magic Kids live in this summer mindset all year long.

Almost by definition, Magic Kids are derivative. Strip away some strings and double the vocal harmonies and you’ve basically got a slightly more rock ‘n roll Beach Boys. Also derivative, though a lot less irksome, is the album’s composition: it feels like a singles collection. A bunch of catchy, fun songs too endearing (and brief) to be tiring, but not dynamic or coherent enough to create a true album experience.

Still, there’s a swagger to some of these songs that’s irresistible, partly out of musical nostalgia, partly out of the visceral joy of the rhythm. Opener “Phone,” closer “Cry With Me Baby,” and “Hey Boy” are all outstandingly groovy and nearly impossible not to love. In fact, almost all the songs are at least pretty good in their own right, while a few moments stand out as hints that this band is really something special: the build before the chorus on “Candy,” that otherworldly echo on the acoustic guitar in “Hideout,” the intro to “Hey Boy.” But somehow the album feels less than the sum of its parts. Some great songs, some brilliant moments – this should be a great album, or at least a very good one. But something’s missing: depth, or texture, or a surprise.

Reviews of debut albums are way overstuffed with the word “potential,” but let’s face it: what Memphis shows, other than sharp pop craftsmanship and a willingness to retread old territory, is that these kids have enormous potential. I won’t speculate on what they’ll do next, because it could just as easily be more of the same. And that would be fine: there are great songs here, and I’m sure Magic Kids will have a profound impact on hundreds of summer mixes. Maybe they have a brilliant album in their future. But, if not, there’s nothing wrong with more good songs.