Popular Mechanics by Piano Magic

august 2 21:47

This is an album I have wanted to sit down and write about for well over a year. And it's one that I have had a connection to for years.

This is Piano Magic's first album. I listened to it after getting into their third album, called Low Birth Weight. Can't recall any exact months, or even years that I first listened to and then got into them, because they were both very, very slow burners. As in, maybe I had a slight interest at first, but after many repeated listens over a long period of time, they eventually became some of the most important albums to me.

My favorite ever albums seem to always be ones that invoke a specific feeling in me that I cannot experience in any other circumstance. And that's true with Popular Mechanics. It's a certain vibe, an atmosphere, an emotion within me that is impossible to feel without the album. And this is the biggest problem when attempting to explain why I love an album as much as I do. I cannot invoke this emotion in you any more than I can in myself, nor can I even adequately describe it.

But, what I can do is give my opinions, describe the tracks themselves, and use imagery. It is an emotion, but it's also often locations and environments that come to my mind when listening, and those are describable.

If I had to give someone an idea of what this album is to me overall, I would say it's like a fuzzy, distant memory of another life, in another world which is not unlike our own, drenched in sepia and cloaked in an obscure melancholy. It is so unfamiliar, yet so nostalgic. A home far away in the country that you forgot you lived in... the comfort of listless solitude in an alternate reality. This is Popular Mechanics to me.


1. Metal Coffee - This is my least favorite track on the album for one very simple reason, and that is its use of stock cartoon sound effects. Most times I have listened to this album, I have skipped this track for that reason, and started with the next one instead. For me, it clashes very heavily in tone with everything else, and I don't understand the decision to use these sounds here. Without those, it would still be different, but not in a way that breaks immersion.

It is a very chaotic and short track, and I like it fully otherwise, especially the distorted voice that comes in at the end. The only word you can make out is "consciousness". Creative, weird. The cartoon sounds are my one main criticism of the album, but I think the track would be great otherwise, and it's lucky that this is just a short intro anyway.

2. Wintersport / Cross Country - Where the minimalism starts. There is something very comforting about Wintersport. It's quite gentle. ...It's simple, and the voice is light and soothing. This is what sets the tone for me. This fades away and leads into animal noises, like birds, owls, sheep. And the start of the many mechanical sounding noises that the album has to offer, repetitive whirring and beeps.

Cross Country then fades in and carries a contrasting sense of urgency, like a rush. I enjoy how this track progresses with different sections that each have their own feel but combine in an interesting way. This is how I feel about the album overall as well.

3. Everything Works Beautifully - Full industrial and mechanical mode. This is pure experimentation, and most would probably not consider it music. Me, I do, and I adore it. It sounds very non-human. It is repetitive, with sections layering, overlapping each other in changing ways. I love the liquid, the tapping, the buzzing, and the contrasting noise that sounds like a pout. Very strange. Like an abandoned factory that was never turned off, and grew a mind of its own.

4. Untitled interlude that is very short and simple, but I love it. It sounds like repeating fanfare with a backdrop of rough ambience, that fades in and then out. By itself, it's interesting, but as a section of this album placed right here, it becomes fascinating to me. I wonder who exactly thought of this and made it and then put it here, and why. It's so unusual. This definitely adds a lot to the atmosphere for me.

5. Amongst Russian Lathes & Metal Curls - Starts off so fucking dark. It's a direct contrast to the slightly eerie cheeriness of the last track. This is the sound of walking through a long, bare hallway in silence, only to turn the corner and see that it becomes pure darkness. The buzzing noises again make it sound reminiscent of a factory or something.

The vocals here come in unexpected, because they haven't been present for several minutes, and because they're not being sung, but spoken in the form of abstract poetry. The lines don't quite make sense, and this adds to the creepy, odd mood.

6. Birth of an Object - A return to the experimentation and mechanical noise. This track is less gentle and subdued and more busy than track 3. It sounds like a malfunctioning alien machine. It also has a sound that reminds me of a music box. I appreciate music like this, that is shamelessly abstract and makes no attempt to be considered a song. No rhythm, no melody, no pattern. But one thing that sets this album apart is that not every track is the same thing. Some are like this, and some are the opposite...

7. Revolving Moth Cage - In an album that is so comfortable with experimentation, abstraction, electronics, and lack of melody, this track stands out a lot. At first, it seems to be just more droning noise, until an acoustic guitar comes in, which plays arpeggiated chords in a set rhythm. After that, a melody is overlaid, and more elements are gently added in.

It's the track's place in this album that makes it so meaningful to me. It feels as if I've wandered into a hidden, enchanted forest... it's so mystical, delicate, and timeless. Inserted right into the middle of the tracklist, it feels even more obscure in that way, like a little gem awaiting discovery. I must describe this track as magic.

8. To Be Swished / Dream of the UPS Driver - In this first section, I enjoy the low, sullen drones. I don't even know how to describe this sound that persists here.... it's like a high whine. Not quite like anything else I've heard before. The vocals return again here, and they are sung this time. They all combine to form quite a glum sound.

Just like track 2, which is also comprised of two separate sections, this has an in between area. It is of drone and static, with intermittent ringing. I just love how they begin the next section. It's like the sound of an airplane.

The tracks of this album have unusual names in general, but Dream of the UPS Driver must top them all. This section once again has a much different vibe than anything else in the album. It feels more lighthearted and playful to me, mainly comprised of silly little beeps.

9. Freckled Robot - This one does not feel like as much of a standout track as the other ones for me, but that doesn't mean it's not good. It delivers with a mix of ideas that exist elsewhere on the album. Lots of ringing, beeps, and taps, but this time with a distinct rhythm, melody, and chord structure. This track continues with the already present atmosphere of the album and there's nothing wrong with that.

10. Soft Magnets - Now it is quite creepy. It feels like there is a hidden meaning or voice behind these discordant, wailing noises. There is a dissonance present that is not resolved. Like a contraption that was built wrong, and is crying for help. It's just so strange. I love it.

11. Wrong French - Sounds the most like a song to me. Which isn't saying much, haha. The intro sets the mood thoroughly with heavy rain. When the main music starts, it's really like a painting. The colors are all swirled together. This may be the album at its most melancholy. It's so dreary, somber.... like a whispered goodbye on a stormy day. The saturnine atmosphere is so thick.

I don't comment much on the words themselves in this album because they don't matter much to me in this particular one. I understand many of them, but not all, and they are more like mood-setters to me rather than storytellers.

12. You've Lost Your Footing in This World - Very much an ending track. The easygoing chord structure continually resolving gives it a sense of closure, especially because it's on a major chord. It's really just wind and these chords with a simple melody on top. Nothing special here but it ends the album by completing the minimal and bittersweet atmosphere.

Popular Mechanics is an anomaly of an album. It's so experimental and pretty much every track has its own identity and feel, but they all add up into something that feels whole and complete to me. Most people find nothing special about it, but for me personally, the moody, odd, and tranquil atmosphere provides a serene and all-encompassing catharsis.

august 3, 2023 04:25