Billed as the most “relaxing” entry in Darla’s long running ambient “Bliss Out” series, Piano Magic puts out an incredibly soft, underspoken album with a nautical theme. Most theme albums strike me as either pretentious or unrewarding. Either they go too far with the theme, or they don’t go far enough. In this case, Piano Magic (love the name) creates two engrossing tales the follow a nautical theme. But we’re not talking about Gilligan’s Island. No, the waters are decidedly less-friendly. It describes frozen waters, underneath a sky “so cold you can hear the moon,” littered by rusting ships and the memories of shipwrecked sailors.
The album begins with “A Trick of the Sea,” which starts off with a gentle guitar melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Slowdive record. This slowly gives way to a swirling, disorienting all-electronic section that, although initially out of place, grows on the listener. This gives way to another guitar piece, this time with vocals. The vocalist, Lucy Gulland, has a remarkable voice and the lyrics match perfectly with the mood of the album, with lines such as “Heading south so I can go north/Guided by birds but drifting off course/Read the tide-table before going out/But 50 years old with chapters torn out). Over 20 minutes in length, “A Trick of the Sea” finally fades away to the pulses of what sounds like a GPS satellite and more electronic waves and rhythms.
The second track, “Halloween Boat,” differs from the first in that it is all-electronic and is spoken word. I’ll admit that I didn’t like this track at all when I first heard it. I felt the spoken word bit was too distracting from the gentle lull of the music. But I was wrong. This is another soothing piece, as Charles Wyatt speaks of a sailor trapped on the frozen sea with a “let’s maker it better” letter from his love. In some ways, more soothing than the first due to the gentle electronic pulses and the gentle sounds of the sea, “Halloween Boat” continues the ghostly themes of the first track.
Piano Magic has crafted an incredibly nice album, and this makes me want to hear more of their catalog. Although some parts may strike the listener as odd and out of place, they eventually add to the variety and flow of the record. Ghostly, haunting, melancholy, eerie, relaxing — all of these terms reply. Piano Magic creates two hauntingly beautiful tales that sound like recordings straight from the Sargasso Sea or the stateroom of the “Flying Dutchman.”