Typhoon – Sympathetic Magic
How do you follow a masterpiece? Minus a few notable exceptions, the simple answer is that you don’t. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, and if you’re lucky enough as an artist to have the stars align and every piece fall perfectly in place on a project, then it’s an exercise in futility to spend your time trying to recapture the magic. If another great work is to be on the cards it can’t be forced, it has to be allowed to happen naturally. The only greater folly is to do the exact opposite; to turn your back on your greatest success and fail to take the proper lessons away from it. If you find yourself in the shadow of your last release, the answer isn’t to build taller or keep running until you reach the sunlight, but simply to be comfortable in the shade.
It is here that we find the new surprise record from Portland band Typhoon. After their magnificent opus Offerings (our highest rated album to date, and naturally among our best records of the past decade) dealt with a poignant tale of memory loss and complex questions of identity, its follow up takes a step back from such grandiose concepts. Instead Sympathetic Magic seeks to simply process these tumultuous past twelve months, and ultimately does an admirable job of capturing the zeitgeist. Kyle Morton’s lyricism really shines on this record, addressing important topics and tackling a bewildering tangle of emotions in his own uniquely poetic and sometimes playful way, while also waving the banner for causes close to his heart.
‘We’re In It’ begins with a catch up between friends commenting on the madness of everything at play (“Poured the drinks, exchanged prerequisites, “I am good,” you said, “but the world is shit”), before shifting focus to show lives turned even more upside down by police brutality at BLM protests (“And the next I saw you was a hospital bed, With a gunshot wound, nurses shaved your head, You were lucky maybe, maybe the opposite”). ‘Welcome to the Endgame’ rails against the maddening state that the US finds itself in (“America, I’m inside you, Kicking, screaming at your sinews, It’s so easy to blame you, But the guilt’s as good as mine”), while ‘Time, Time’ veers closer to the feel of Offerings as it ponders aging and the passage of time with line after line of poignant, tattoo-worthy eloquence. The lines that most struck a chord with me however are those in the opening of ‘Evil Vibes’: “It’s been unreal the way I’m living, Purely by accident, tossed between cataclysms, Say it, I know that I’ve been slipping, Everything piling up, sink full of dirty dishes”. It’s the best description I’ve seen yet of the frustrating mundanity of life in unprecedented times, and how we all struggle to keep up routines while everything is crumbling around us.
The lyrics are so striking on this record in part because the music takes a marked step back from the spotlight. For much of its runtime Sympathetic Magic eschews the band’s usual expansive orchestration in favour of a more folk and Americana inspired sound. Though charming in small doses, this stripped back approach at times doesn’t quite offer each track enough of a unique identity. Thankfully the brilliant decision to bring back the brass section that was so prominent on White Lighter really fleshes out the record and adds a lot of warmth to tracks like ‘Time,Time’, ‘Masochist Ball’ and album highlight ‘Empire Builder’. Not every track quite hits the mark though, as ‘We’re In It’ certainly seems like it’s missing something musically and often feels as though it stumbles over its words, and the more electronic arrangement in the opening of ‘Two Birds’ feels rather out of place.
It may not be another masterpiece, but I wouldn’t hesitate in calling it a damn good record. And while on a personal level Sympathetic Magic will always live in the shadow of its predecessor, for new-comers looking for a record to help process the mess both inside your head and out on the streets then I can’t recommend it enough.