I’m going to come right out and say it — I thought Writers Without Homes was a pretty decent album. However, most people seem to think that it represents the nadir of Piano Magic’s catalog. Sure, it might not compare to Low Birth Weight or Artists’ Rifles, but it wasn’t that bad, was it? Those same people also seem to be falling all over themselves in praise of Piano Magic’s latest full-length, The Troubled Sleep of Piano Magic. But I guess I’m at odds with popular opinion again, as I don’t find that album nearly as brilliant as others do.
This 3‑song EP is a nice and succinct summation of what’s wrong with the latest full-length. The title track is a bleary-eyed recounting of late-night pining and desperation — only lacking in the desperation. The music meanders from loping basslines to sudden outbursts of crashing drums and guitars, from stark guitar notes that sound as if they’ve been bleached by neon lights to eerie Disintegration-esque synths. While each of these elements sound fine on their own, the song never successfully connects them in any meaningful way until the song’s final outburst.
It ends up sounding rather arbitrary, with little rhyme or reason, lending little if any emotional heft to the lyrics. And regarding the lyrics, the song contains some of the same brilliant wordplay as past Glen Johnson writings. But constant repetition robs them of any cleverness and effect they might’ve had otherwise.
After the short guitar-and-strings interlude of “Paulette,” the disc winds down with the slow-burning “Luxembourg Gardens.” The fragile vocals of Klima’s Angele David-Guillou are a lovely element — the nicest on the EP — and lend an innocence, a small sliver of light to the darker soundscapes, which are populated by ominous keys and sparse guitars. However, as it continues, it becomes increasingly obvious where the song is heading.
Sure enough, the synths begin to darken and swell right before the song explodes in a Mogwai-ish climax of surging guitars. Furthermore, since it’s smack dab in the middle of the song, it’s only purpose seems to be waking up any listeners who might’ve nodded off, ensuring that they’re awake for another 3 minutes or so plodding gloominess.
Given how artistic, mercurial, and vital Piano Magic’s sound has been in the past, I find it rather troubling and disappointing that their songs have become as predictable as this.