Friday, September 24th, 2021

Magdalena Bay – Chaeri

We temporarily interrupt reviews to give you a geography lesson.


Aaron Bergstrom: Magdalena Bay (band) are based in Los Angeles, and there is in fact a Magdalena Bay (body of water) in California (well, Baja California), so fair play to them on that. However, there is also a Magdalena Bay (body of water) in Norway, and wouldn’t it make more sense if icy, shimmering pop like “Chaeri” was being made in Scandinavia and not SoCal? It’s like how you can’t call it champagne unless it actually comes from that particular region in France. Still, while “geographically misdescriptive” is a reason why your trademark application might get denied, it’s not really a fair criticism of a propulsive, crystalline gem like this one that could play anywhere.

Ian Mathers: For this kind of breathy vocals over throbbing electronic background, It can be hard to balance those elements in such a way that neither element gets swallowed or overshadowed. Magdalena Bay have chosen one of my favourite approaches to the problem, where it feels like the production is insistently seeping in around Mica Tenenbaum’s vocals. And then, just when they’ve built a sturdy enough vibe I honestly expected “Chaeri” to just stick with it for the duration, they start blowing it up a little in a wonderful way, with the kind of eruptions that make me wonder wistfully what could have been if more synthpop bands had gotten in on the shoegaze ground floor. 

John S. Quinn-Puerta: The loop feels like it could go on for hours without me getting bored. The bass starts out surprising but its constancy becomes comforting as “Chaeri” rises and falls. 

Dorian Sinclair: “Chaeri” starts small — a whispered melody, moving in tiny steps over a simple drumbeat and dark, repetitious synthline. The slow build from there, as melodic intervals get larger and more instruments are layered in, is extremely well-paced right up until the instrumental break at 3:00, which doesn’t quite land for me. Having a moment of catharsis there is the right choice, but something about how it’s executed falls flat. Unfortunately, from there the song never quite recaptures the simmering tension of the first half, though I do like the static wash that rolls over the ending like the tide.

Tim de Reuse: A lot of details that I like individually: the indistinct echoes that start filling the background halfway through, that little downturn in the bass, the way the word “bad” is delivered just loud enough to distort. What’s the payoff? Pure bombast: a cloud of feathery pads and arpeggi. It’s impressive for the first few seconds after it hits you, and more ambitious than most synthpop acts would dare to put out there as a big single, but it suffocates everything interesting about the song under its weight.

Nortey Dowuona: The lopsided bass is slipping over the side of the pulsing kicks while Mica Tenenbaum sprinkles on her powdery voice along with the blipping analog synths, before letting loose the flat footed snares and a swarm of churning synths. A pile of synth sludge crashes down on a spiralling drum break, which smash through the floor as the bass, now set firmly on the middle, carries them across to the next building as the synths swallows and smash their old room to bits.

William John: No one’s quarantine home workouts appear to been as fruitful as Magdalena Bay’s; having developed a fanbase through commitment to a DIY, living-room, post-post-chillwave (or wherever we’re up to with that) aesthetic, they emerge suddenly with “Chaeri,” confident, muscular, and ready to soar. “Chaeri” is not only the finest Magdalena Bay song yet, it’s also the longest (if you overlook remixes like the popular slow’n’reverbed version of “Killshot“), and though brevity has been a definitive characteristic of much of their previous material, a maximalist approach sure does look cute on them. Singer Mica Tenenbaum’s directions to “lose control,” “let it come alive” and “let it grow” in the song’s glorious coda are as much instruction as they are affirmation, and the more the synths spiral behind her, the more declarative her vows to revel in the wildness of new thrills become.

Alfred Soto: It could’ve unfolded so anonymously, so ignominiously: breathy electro-throb hasn’t had the best of track records the last decade. How “Chaeri” recreates the experience of how an awakening person remembers a night of dancing and passion when the 1 a.m. beats are dim echoes is its astonishment.

Leah Isobel: On paper, this empathetic, anthemic chorus (“It’s only that bad — it’s only that bad — if you tell yourself you’ll never get out of bed!”) could read like an openhearted Robyn banger, the kind of song that provides comfort and warmth. But Magdalena Bay undercut it with an unstable melody and a bass synth that sounds like a jet engine careening in and out of key. They introduce menace, and slip the feeling from solicitous to domineering and demanding. If Robyn’s work is poptimism materialized, the platonic ideal of pop as connective tissue, “Chaeri” is pop pessimism — suspicious of the comfort pop can provide, exaggerating and satirizing it until it comes off more like mind control. It’s a cool thought experiment, but what makes it work is that it absolutely slaps.

Will Adams: Magdalena Bay tend to only flirt with explosiveness — see the brief climaxes toward the end of “Airplane” or “Oh Hell” — opting instead for cruising, blissful electro-pop. On “Chaeri,” they blow the doors open. The explosion is foreshadowed, via an uncertain chord progression and the giant snare that enters in verse two, but every time it hits, it dazzles. The growing tension reflects Mica Tenenbaum’s situation: equal parts contrition for her part in a failed friendship and frustration with the other party’s unwillingness to reconcile. The coda following the explosion is where it clicks. “Let it come alive, let it grow,” she sings as the music follows suit, “better cut and dried than unknown.” “Chaeri” tracks a riveting journey, not just of musical progression but of personal growth to accept past wrongs and look, laser-focused, to the future, nothing held back.

Reader average: [2.84] (19 votes)

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