J a n u a r y   2 0 0 6

Aural Report

The Magic Numbers' eponynous debut
Summer spirits in the dead of winter
by Kurt Dahlke

s it 10 ounces gone from your imperial pint, or 10 ounces left? If the former, then January can be a tough time.

The frenzy of The Holidays is over and you're opening the door on a world full of stringent New Year's resolutions: ice, wind, no football and nothing much else. Plus, you've spent all your money.

Winter gloom? Blow your last $11.99 on the Magic Numbers' eponymous debut.

But if you want to chase away the gloom, dig down for that last $11.99 and blow it at the iTunes store (Does Soundscan track iTunes? I want the Magic Numbers to know they've made another cash transaction.) on a download of their eponymous debut CD.

There are two irrefutable reasons to listen to this album, which is a nearly flawless concoction of '60s-inflected power pop from the group with a built-in gimmick (the band is composed of two brother-sister pairs, a fact which makes the Magic Numbers as dorky and thrillingly anti-cool as their oft-referenced forebears, the Cowsills).

Reason one is track number four. If this album had been released in late May instead of October, the song "Love Me Like You" would have been blaring from car speakers all summer long. Songwriter Romeo Stodart seems to subscribe to the ABBA theory of composition – if you've got one hook in a song, pile on three or four more just to be safe.

"Love Me Like You," which seems genetically engineered to be a radio hit, starts fast with '60s-themed peppy guitar and handclaps before longing lyrics and sugar-sweet ooh/ahh backing vocals emerge to up the ante. The simplistic strength of the composition is poised to bust down doors before a frenzied, slightly obvious passage (which likely kills in live performance) builds to the just-plain-sticky chorus.

Next, the perfect time to "bring things down a bit" with a bridge that starts slowly before piling on the 36 hooks for a mélange that raises the question: Where the hell did this come from? Returning to the chorus, an old-fashioned outro/fanfare ends things on an unsurprising high note.

Oft-referenced forebears: the Cowsills got nothing on the Magic Numbers.

For further convincing, point your cursor to track 11, "Love's A Game," which is too long to be a single but perfect as a B-side. It's as assured, catchy and artfully indulgent as any song has a right to be. It's so delicious that it's hard to write about. Is it the slack beat? Knowing lyrics? Sweet harmonies? Insouciant harmonium?

For one thing, there's the laughing, c'est la vie attitude in lyrics such as "I'm an honest mistake that you made, did you mean to?" or "love is just a lie, happens all the time, girl I know this much is true." But if those lyrics don't connect, listen to how they're delivered – with a sexy, lazy drawl flowing off the tongue like tupelo honey.

Let's talk about the solo break at 2 minutes, 45 seconds: the sweetly loping downward trip of the pocketed bass line, the flabby one-note wheezing of the harmonium, the tasty guitar licks. Then things stop cold for three in-unison tugboat-sounding blasts before that bass line solidly steps in again like slipping into a bubbling, steaming hot tub on a January night.

These long-haired white boys and girls have no problem tightening up as necessary and see nothing wrong with backing up their demonstration of feel and dynamics with some tasty vibraphone.

ABBA, '60s influences and unrepentant power-pop from a dual brother-sister music group sounds a bit square though, don't it? Too true, and cutting edge don't exactly describe the Magic Numbers.

Power pop akin to ABBA: the Magic Numbers share a ray of jangly sunshine.

The band sometimes has a hard time ending songs, and the barnburners on the album are outnumbered by equally catchy and well-written slow songs that probably appeal to the older crowd.

Plus, as a band that does what it does nearly perfectly, the group is in severe danger of having no coolness factor at all.

Which just makes it all the better for those of us who aren't afraid to look dorky. The Magic Numbers is a super-good reason, a ray of jangly shimmering sunshine, to keep your spirits up in the dead of winter.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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