Danny Todd and James Smith are Exmagician, two members of the band formerly known as Cashier No 9, who released the stupendous – though mostly overlooked – To the Death of Fun in 2011. Scan the Blue sees the Belfast duo stirring up more of the ethereal vocals and psych rock patterns that made their previous effect such a buoyant record.
The sound is heavier this time: less folk, more rock. A Korg MS-20 synth played a big part in shaping the direction of the duo’s self-produced Exmagician album, according to Todd. He borrowed one from David Holmes – producer of their previous record – and the sound of synths blended with revving guitars is a signature.
Opening track, ‘Kiss That Wealth Goodbye’, gives an early indicator of this shift, and the one-two punch of blues-rock-fuelled ‘The Rot Sets In’ and ‘Wild Eyes’ capitalise on the duo’s taste for Beck-meets-Black Rivers-type rock. The rumbling ‘Plan Retrieval’ even sounds like a cross between Modern Guilt-era Beck and David Holmes’ ‘What R We Stealing’ from Ocean’s Twelve.
The track that hooked dozens of Cashier No 9 fans was the rousing ‘Oh Pity’, which, when listened to while moving at rapid speed on a train or on the road, was probably the closest thing one could get to the feeling of flying without wings (or taking illegal substances). Nothing on Scan the Blue achieves the rapturous weightlessness the band has achieved before, but the soft rock songs that exist are still captivating (‘Place Your Bets’, ‘Feet Don’t Fail’). ‘Smile to the Gallery’, a lazy, surf-psych number and standout song, feels like it could have come from Gengahr or the Allah-Las.
Exmagician’s debut has punch, particularly if it you are yet to hear the band’s earlier work. It’s grittier and feels like the work of two songwriters who recognise their style, and want to progress it. Breaking away from the cinematic strings and the pearly folk of their previous work, Scan the Blue is a reset. Though it doesn’t reach sky-high sensations, it is an album of galvanising flavours.
Scan the Blue is out now on Bella Union.
Image: Bella Union/PR