Album: Iain Mann – Magic Tracks

This is a really personal album- rich in the most carefully-considered pure pop song craft; the presence of McCartney looms large at times as does Brian Wilson in some of the baroque mass-voiced experiments- but in these finely wrought songs Iain Mann has pushed a thing of grace and charm into the quiet corners of the world. For that we should all be grateful.

Strings are played with eloquence and sensitivity – all Abbey Road purity and She’s Leaving Home melancholic beauty. In that ‘close of the 60s/start of the 70s’ pop-psych potency, I’m reminded of Kelly Stolz at times too. Both Stoltz and Mann are clearly at home tinkering with the nostalgic possibilities of pop whilst also both in thrall to the purity of its buoyant brevity. The album’s title track, Magic Tracks, was apparently inspired by a psilocybin experience that sent our songwriter back to the towering redwood forests of his childhood home, memory and music’s strange interplay proving itself to be magical once more indeed.  There is a delightfully homespun quality to the recording – Mann’s children can be heard playing and shouting at times – their voices creeping into the quieter moments of the mix like hide n seek. But despite this rusticity – this is as far away from lo-fi bedroom pop as you could imagine. This is precise, bold and broad in its horizons – a polished, precious thing! 

I love that one of the album’s songs, Sandy Says (Vignette), lasts a mere thirty three seconds but still manages to craft a memorable melody and pull at the heartstrings in its brief existence. That takes some doing! It could so easily have been fleshed out further into a standard format but Mann took a step back and said, “No… that’s enough. That will do…” Glorious! Although he wears his influences comfortably, this isn’t all Wings/ELO indebted guitar pop, “Fugue of the Wino (Con Fuga De Wayno)” and ”Saya For Molly” being inspired by Andean and Bolivian traditions in turn- though they arguably still cling to those beloved pop tropes too. The former starts with the percussive creak of a closing door, and in its open-hearted melodiousness shows a clear fondness for Big Star, or Elliott Smith at his most Beatles inspired. 

Baby Zora is a real highlight – almost theatrical in its soundscape and narrative – despite the direct delicacy and stripped back palette of its folk textures. The strings are absolutely sublime once more – and again its beauty is made more potent by its concision. Following straight after, Sandy Says is equally gorgeous- possessing a sensitive yet playful melody that takes hold, as well as a really vital vocal performance. It’s tremendous stuff and proves, as if the rest of the album hadn’t already, just how much Mann knows what he’s doing.  Nothing On California is a little gem too- delicate and arresting – the strings again providing an emotional weight- and it fades out with the finest piece of whistling I’ve heard for some time. 

Magic Tracks is a family affair, it’s also a collaborative effort -featuring a wide range of talented contributors; above all though, this is one man’s singular and imaginative vision; and visions are important here- they may well be the catalyst for further creative reinventions. Until that time comes, marvel at the magic provided here. 

Written by M.A Welsh (Misophone) 

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