We live in a world of instant gratification. With technology and knowledge at the very ends of our fingertips, our constant demand for infinite connectivity has become second-nature to our most primal urges. We have become distracted, forgetting that the very solace we seek may ultimately lie in the silence we dread. Pop is perhaps music’s biggest victim to these all-consuming impulses. It constantly demands that we go bigger, brasher, and brighter until everything threatens to simply burn out, fading away into obscurity, leaving behind nothing but the rain-soaked ashes of what came before.
Enter Magic Island, the moniker of Emma Czerny, a Canadian-born, Berlin-based artist who’s mission is to slow everything down, “to return to a sensitivity, a delicate state; to become soft again”. With not one but two remarkable Eps under her belt, ‘Like Water’ has been a long-time coming and luckily the album doesn’t disappoint. Much like her prior output, ‘Like Water’ continues with Magic Island’s dreamlike aesthetic, crafting a selection of tracks enshrouded in distorted synths and hazy vocal overlaps that blur the barriers between pop and psychedelia with heart-stopping ease.
Opening track ‘Intro/The Waves Crash’ presents a quietly menacing instrumental number complete with orchestral strings and an off-kilter piano-driven melody. It’s flagrant and cinematic, peppered with undertones of folk that sets the scene for the hushed, contemplative tone that follows the remaining nine tracks. Atmosphere is the name of the game for Magic Island and each track drips with seething melancholy. Lead single ‘Alchemy,’ opens up with a punchy and rhythmic bass beat that pierces through the track like a loaded water droplet. Czerny’s vocals are vital here, hauntingly dragging within the depths of sonic space as she coos, “I didn’t want to to let you down”. It’s equal parts menacing and fragile, demonstrating her relationship with silence and space that’s an inherent part of Magic Island’s DNA.
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The arrangements throughout the record are nothing short of breath-taking, providing a sense of airiness to the melodies that allow Czerny’s distinctive vocal fragility to filter through the haze. On ‘Heartbeat’, for example, Czerny’s languid falsetto floats alongside looping synths and sizzling high-hats. The vocals no longer forming a distinct part of the track, merging instead with the sonic landscapes that she has crafted. This is none more apparent than on ‘Little Love’, featuring Sean Nicholas Savage, an enthralling duet that sees the delicate vocals of both Savage and Czerny mingling within each other, oscillating infinitely like an echo through time. It works to a trance-like effect, presenting a delicate duality that defines much of ‘Like Water’. The potential harshness of Czerny’s atypical melodic compositions is shattered by these long and lingering musical reverberations, opening up alternate, more sensitive worlds for us to explore.
Each track seems to effortlessly meld in and out of each other like a form of aural osmosis. This creates an effect of longevity and extends the power of these compositions far beyond the boundaries of their runtime, encircling the spaces between the tracks and the album as a whole, the listener and the creator. One the one hand the album remains woefully consistent, never once breaching the soft, delicate atmosphere conjured by ‘Like Water’. More specifically, the effect allows the album to feel like a journey as opposed to a selection of well-produced yet conceptually unrelated tracks. The flipside, however, is that ‘Like Water’ begins to feel a little stale before the runtime is over. That’s not to say that Magic Island lacks formal experimentation within her arrangements, rather, Czerny seems to rely on the same effect a little too frequently, and multiple listenings are likely to dilute the overall effect of Like Water’s intimacy. As it stands, the album nonetheless remains haunting and beautiful and Magic Island’s direct, singular vision is something to be applauded. As an overall listening experience, however, the magic nonetheless wears off towards the end and Czerny’s hypnotic spell becomes fragmented within the midst of her brooding yet languid melodies.
‘Like Water’ is out now via MAMI