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exmagician – Sit Tight

With about as fitting a title as possible, Sit Tight is the self-released, second full-length release from exmagician, coming a whopping eight years after debut Scan The Blue (Bella Union, 2016). The duo, better known as Daniel Todd and James Smith, are half of one of Belfast’s most criminally underrated prospects, Cashier No. 9. While Cashier No. 9 were more interested in bringing shoegaze sounds up to date for the millennial generation, exmagician is an entirely different beast.

More so a studio project than a band, the band have seemingly spent all this time moulding this wonderful collection of songs into an intricate, layered sculpture. Reviews of Scan The Blue were quick to point out the duo’s dark, gritty take on West Coast pop sounds. The nine songs on Sit Tight, while every bit as deceptively complex, are soaked with tasteful, carefully placed effects. While the lyrical content is inspired by “the mountains of self-help and motivational quotes you scroll through on social media,” it’s somehow an altogether more fun listening experience.

Comparisons to mid-fi ‘90s stalwarts Beck and the Beta Band seem unavoidable. The album draws from a sonic well that includes ‘60s kitsch, reverb, jangly guitars, gorgeous harmonies, weird left turns, retro-futuristic warbles, whistles, whooshes and symphonic samples. These elements give the album a quaint, whimsical, simultaneously timeless and out-of-time aesthetic.

Stylistically, there is much to explore and enjoy. Lead single ‘Sharpen These’ meshes Beach Boys-esque sunshine pop with Parliament/Funkadelic-like off-kilter funk, while ‘Dullard’ is a gorgeous slice of reverb-soaked jangle pop, while ‘Pistol’ masterfully blends psychedelic and chamber pop sounds, with an almost lounge lizard vocal delivery.

Despite having been conceived during a seemingly bleak period for the duo (after the release of Scan The Blue, the pair found themselves without a manager or label), Sit Tight – while possibly tongue in cheek in tone – is a delightful listen. Revealing more of itself with each listen, and rewarding the listener for the commitment, you’re not likely to hear a more meticulously crafted album this year. Danny Kilmartin

is a Dublin-based writer, contributing to the likes of HeadStuff, Eject and Goldenplec