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Sinds de oprichting van de band als tijdverdrijf in een garage (of een slaapkamer?) in de zomer van 1996, heeft Piano Magic nooit een berekend parcours gehad – tenzij louter willekeurig misschien.

Piano Magic is bewust een groep met steeds wisselende bezetting: muzikanten komen, dragen hun steentje bij aan het grote bouwwerk, en gaan weer weg wanneer ze er zin hebben. Eind 1998 heeft de groep reeds een hele rist singles en twee albums uitgebracht.

Dit komen en gaan van muzikanten leidde tot een voortdurende variatie aan stijlen, van de Kraftwerkiaanse clicks op hun debuut 'Popular Mechanics' (1997) tot de verstikkende, hemelse, veelgelaagde melancholie van 'Low Birth Weight' (1998).

Wanneer stichter Glen Johnson in 1999 de Spaanse drummer Miguel Marin ontmoet, neemt Piano Magic tijdelijk een 'conventioneel' groepsformaat aan. Ze beginnen te spelen waar het hen uitkomt, en bouwen een reputatie op die zal leiden tot de status van cultgroep, vooral op het Europese vasteland.




Ironisch genoeg is de groep er nooit in geslaagd de aandacht van de Britse muziekpers op te eisen. Als men geen modes of hypes volgt en er een beetje bizar uitziet, kan men maar beter niet te veel tijd verliezen in het trouweloze Engeland. Zodoende werden er in de loop van de jaren tours georganiseerd in heel Europa.

Miguel Marin verlaat de groep na een nogal ongelukkige doortocht op het 4AD-label, waarvoor Piano Magic de plaat maakte die het minst in de smaak viel bij de pers, 'Writers Without Homes', en de soundtrack voor de film 'Son De Mar', van de Spanjaard Bigas Luna.

De ervaring wordt op filosofische wijze verteerd: de groep pakt zich terug samen, wordt aangevuld met een paar nieuwe Franse muzikanten, en neemt in de vlucht 'The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic' op. Dit album dat in 2003 verschijnt op het onafhankelijke Spaanse label Green Ufos is een perfecte weerspiegeling van de live sound van Piano Magic: delicate stem, schitterende gitaren, bedwelmende ritmes en hymnes op de synths.




In juni 2004 volgt de 'Saint Marie EP', waaraan onder andere de folkheldin van de jaren '60 Vashti Bunyan, Alan Sparhawk van Low en Ben Ayres van Cornershop meedoen. Een cast die bevestigt dat Piano Magic ondertussen is uitgegroeid tot een belangrijke groep.

De nieuwe plaat 'Disaffected' herneemt de diepgang en dynamiek van 'The Troubled Sleep Of', maar toont een meer melodieuze, bijna poppy kant van Piano Magic. Vocale gastbijdragen zijn er onder andere van John Grant van The Czars en Angèle David-Guillou van Klima.

Tot nu heeft Piano Magic meer dan 60 muzikale wezen onderdak geboden, 6 albums opgenomen, een dubbelcd met een overzicht van hun loopbaan en veel, heel veel singles.

Ze hebben verschillende van de labels die hun platen hebben uitgebracht allemaal overleefd, en vertonen nog geen enkel teken van vermoeidheid. Dit komen ze trouwens bewijzen op het Rhâââ Lovely Festival, tijdens hun exclusieve Belgische concert!



-) 1997 : 'Popular Mechanics' on I/Che.



-) 1998 : 'Low Birth Weight' on Rocket Girl.



-) 2000 : 'Artists' Rifles' on Rocket Girl.



-) 2001 : 'Son De Mar — Music From The Film by Bigas Luna' on 4AD.



-) 2001 : 'Seasonally Affective 1996-2000 A Piano Magic Retrospective' on Rocket Girl.



-) 2002 : 'Writers Without Homes' on 4AD.



-) 2003 : 'The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic' on Green Ufos.

Comes With A Smile's point of view :

The stark stall is set from the very start with the sublime Saint Marie, as Johnson whispers with self-descriptive deprecation, in near a cappella fashion, “Out of season / Out of heart,” before the band whip up a soaring wave of shimmering guitars and crisp digital drums, which swerve between the speakers in deliciously disorientating fashion. The Unwritten Law follows in a more pastoral setting, as David-Guillou intones some insomnia-wracked thoughts with jaw-dropping grace; “How can you sleep / With my heart so loud? / I could scream in a jar / Like the sound of a crowd.” The heartache continues on the stunning Speed The Road, Rush The Lights (reprised from the recent EP of the same name), in which Johnson enunciates the rage and mental strain incurred by a long-distance relationship. “Geography be kind to me / For the miles apart are killing me / Tonight I would die to be by your side,” he murmurs before unleashing the full force of Piano Magic’s guitar/bass/drum/synth artillery as previously deployed on the deadly brilliant (Music Won’t Save You From Anything But) Silence (the sole racket-making moment from ‘Writers Without Homes’). David-Guillou guides the band back on to calmer musical seas, with the ambient shades of Help Me Warm This Frozen Heart, but her vocals are so chillingly lachrymose that the effect is equally as unsettling.

Things plunge into deeper and darker waters as Johnson takes on vocal duties for the weighty centre section of the record. On the bleakly beguiling I Am The Teacher’s Son, a lifetime’s worth of regret raises to the surface, though with more oblique wordplay than used elsewhere on the record, “Wrote a novel in my twenties / Though it never left my head / A thousand words a sentence / Until all the characters were dead.” Cavernous and desolate drums usher in the vicious discontent that is barely concealed in The End Of A Dark, Tired Year, as Johnson turns on the city he currently calls home; “London is fucked / A busted bike with rusted gears.” The eerie violins which drive The Tollbooth Martyrs are sad and mournful enough already, before Johnson delivers a poignant eulogy to lives sucked into dead-end occupations; “From college to dole / To tollbooth cashier / Live their lives through diaries.” Johnson says it all on When I’m Done, This Night Will Fear Me, when he sings “Black just got blacker” as his band move things along at a grinding funereal pace. The languorous and lurching Luxembourg Gardens (also a former EP cut) draws together the album’s cyclical feelings of anger, loss and longing as Johnson and David-Guillou duet with disturbing openness. But it’s the closing Comets that really marks out ‘The Troubled Sleep of…’ as Piano Magic’s most profound (and arguably best) full-length release. Over a bare electronic throb on a light bed of acoustic guitars, David-Guillou delivers the heart-lodged-in-throat lines “You should always tell them you love them / In case you never see them again” with a ghost-like wisdom in her voice.

Troubling this album maybe, but a disappointment it is not. If it were to be the last ever Piano Magic album (as the press release alarmingly implies) then there really couldn’t be a more fitting and formidable epitaph to this great band than this utterly spellbinding collection of bittersweet and savagely beautiful songs.

Adrian Pannett - website.



-) 2005 : 'Disaffected' on Green Ufos / Talitres.

Pitchfork's point of view :

Early this year Piano magic released Opencast Heart, a nice four-song EP that found leader Glen Johnson setting his songs in front of a completely electronic backdrop. Following that fruitful experiment Piano Magic return with Disaffected, an overwhelmingly song-oriented record built mostly around typical rock band instrumentation. And it's a good one-- perhaps Piano Magic's strongest full length since Low Birth Weight.

Glen Johnson's always-meticulous attention to sonic detail this time focuses on the emotional possibilities of guitar tone. The snarling leads in "You Can Hear the Room" allude to that point when the gauzy beauty of shoegaze meets the drop-D heft of grunge, and though the lyrics talk about "the whisper of the pipes" this is one of the loudest songs Piano Magic has recorded. Another massive guitar swell closes "Love & Music", reflecting the song's simple theme ("love and music 'til I die") with a sexy wall of trebly chords. Much is made of the influence of the 4AD and Factory labels on Piano Magic, and it's hard to hear the evocative echo-chamber tone of "Night of the Hunter" as anything but channeled Durutti Column. On the simple ballad "I Must Leave London" Johnson's acoustic is wet and lush as Hyde Park grass in a November drizzle.

Disaffected can fairly be called a rock album, but two of the most interesting songs depart from the template. The title track is the only song with female vox, sung this time by Angèle David-Gillou, and through its main section it weds acoustic guitars to a simple drum machine beat. The four-minute coda, however, allows the electronic percussion to take the lead, as beats grow progressively syncopated and the rest of the music drops out save an occasional vocal sample. Even dancier is "Deleted Scenes", which appears halfway through and is then reprised as the record's final track in an extended remix. Possibly Disaffected's best song, "Deleted Scenes" is icy new wave with a classicist's reverence for the feel and clarity of the early 80s originals, from Johnson's Bernard Sumner croon to the primitive synths and cheesy (but effective) vocodered chorus refrain. The extended mix is the one to listen for, with a funky electronic drum jam dominating the final three minutes that playfully shuffles the sort of quasi-industrial percussion hits Depeche Mode used in "People are People".

Interesting thing about Piano Magic is that while the band's overall aesthetic-- music, lyrics and visual presentation-- is so well defined and consistent, the actual records are all over the place. We know we're going to get sad introspection, that the songs will take place in winter, that the production will somehow bring to mind the word "ethereal," and the packaging will look good. The details, however, are always up in the air, which possibly explains the band's inconsistency. This time out the pieces land in a satisfying place.

Mark Richardson - website.




A few tracks can be downloaded here.

-) Saint Marie, taken from 'The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic'.
-) Night of the hunter, taken from 'Disaffected'.



-) Official site.
-) Myspace.
-) 4AD.
-) Green Ufos.
-) Rocket Girl.
-) Talitres.