Piano Magic – Speed the Road, Rush the Lights EP

Piano Magic
Speed the Road, Rush the Lights EP

Whilst Piano Magic’s official relationship with 4AD broke down after just one acclaimed album (2002’s Writers Without Homes), the band’s passion for the label’s dense back catalogue still burns with an unbridled intensity. It seems that whilst you can take Piano Magic out of 4AD, you can’t take the 4AD out of Piano Magic – which judging by this remarkable Spanish import EP, isn’t in any way a bad thing. That’s not to say that the group (led by irrepressible ringleader Glen Johnson) have reconvened to simply revisit the ornate neo-baroque balladry of Writers Without Homes (essentially Piano Magic’s post-millennial update of This Mortal Coil’s Blood, featuring guest spots from members of The Cocteau Twins, Life Without Buildings, Tarwater, and others). No, this three tracker is far more representative of Piano Magic’s live incarnation, formerly personified on the desolate mood masterpiece, Artists’ Rifles (2000).
The awesome title-track opens proceedings perfectly, with Johnson deadpanning, “Geography be kind to me / For the miles apart are killing me / Tonight I would die to be by your side,” with doom-laced, near-Shakespearean romanticism, over a musical bedding that swerves seamlessly between slow-throbbing bass interludes, eerie waves of synths, and searing guitar/drum duels. The song’s sensuous, and downright scary, seven and half minutes certainly rank amongst Piano Magic’s finest moments to date. The gorgeous instrumental intermission “Paulette” follows, with a glimmering melange of interwoven electric/acoustic guitars and rustic violin, suggesting John Fahey and Dirty Three have been on the Piano Magic stereo of late (alongside this year’s Cocteau Twins reissues, of course). The third and final track, “Luxembourg Gardens,” a lengthy trailing duet between Johnson and his French girlfriend Angèle David-Guillou, is another must-have gem too. While the band unfurl a drowsy ambient backdrop, that’s briefly punctuated by a six-string melting middle-eight, Angèle and Glen trade couplets that allude to their long-distance relationship in language seemingly lifted from late night (tear and nicotine stained) diary-entries. It could well be the best song Dead Can Dance and The Red House Painters never got around to writing together.
Undoubtedly one of the most profound, impassioned, and direct statements Piano Magic have ever released, this short-player bodes extremely well for the next album due out (new label permitting) in October this year. And although Glen Johnson still shows no signs of giving-up on his perennial musical or lyrical obsessions, the poise and purpose presented here proves that sticking to your guns isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed of, as long as there’s still plenty of ammunition to keep things full-loaded.