Magic Eye – Babylon

NNF291 Ah, bands. Such contrary bastards!

Magic Eye, you may remember, featured on our second Split 12″ record, released in April last year. They played gorgeous, crystal clear, dreamy pop tunes, and seemed very much in tune with the zeitgeist and possibly on the verge of good things. Well, to me anyway, although as we’ve seen, I am not exactly an authority as far as this kind of thing is concerned.

Anyhow, below is one of the songs they recorded for us, and one which I think turned out really, really well. And I suppose I thought that was how the band heard themselves in their own heads, too. I’d been to see them a couple of times as well though, so I wasn’t just imagining it, entirely.

Of course, we all think we know how our favourite bands ‘ought’ to sound, but when they went into a studio here in Edinburgh to record their debut album, the mixing engineer clearly thought they ought to sound a lot different to how the band themselves thought they should sound. They hated the results, but the guy simply refused to work with them on a second mix. On the face of it, that is pretty shocking behaviour, but they were getting the studio and the time of the engineer on an incredibly cheap rate, so they were probably already well over the time commitments the studio had imagined when they agreed the fee.

I may have released the band’s stuff, but I wasn’t involved in this, so who knows what the ins and outs of it really were. In a sense I find myself really not wanting to know any more, although I cannot for the life of me imagine anyone who actually cares about bands or music refusing to do so much as a ’round two’ when it comes to mixing a band’s album.

Anyhow, whoever was actually in the right in that particular misalignment of expectations, it clearly had a big effect on the band themselves. Firstly, they split up.  Secondly, they obviously couldn’t release the album so their time was wasted. And thirdly, once they managed to get the stems back from the engineer they, er, remixed it to sound like this: Babylon, their latest and I think their last release.

The band themselves describe their studio experience in the press release for this cassette: “they suffered the rite-of-passage indignity of recording their first set of songs at an overly pro studio, rendering the results grit-less and dried out.” Listening to this, it sounds like they have made this mix just to exorcise the ghosts of what they heard before, and I am not sure I would know what to make of it if I hadn’t heard the muggy pop sheen of the studio album (and it is pretty terrible).

The vocals have been submerged in a bath of delay and reverb, it’s a weird, wobbly, hazy mess and I find myself listening to it and feeling both baffled and delighted. After the clarity of the songs they recorded with us, to hear this kind of distorted fog feels kind of shocking, actually. Like I never really understood the band in the first place. But listening to it after the abandoned studio album, it’s almost as if the band’s hatred of those mixes is aggressively, accusingly embodied in these ones.

It helps, I think, that Bek and Roma can really, really sing. They both have high, glacial voices and that element of beauty keeps just a little glitter alive in the fog of hazy mess around them and leaves this music… where, I don’t know. It’s fascinating. I find myself playing it over and over and wondering what I would make of it if I didn’t know so much of the back-story behind its creation.

Buy a copy on cassette here.