George – The Magic Lantern

George
The Magic Lantern

If you thought musical inspiration died in Manchester the day that The Stone Roses cashed their Geffen cheques in for Colombian nose candy or the night Oasis played their first gig, then think again. Away from the overbearing hullabaloo of London’s music industry vortex, Manchester has been quietly breeding a new generation of visionaries. Alt-country outfits like Last Harbour and Anna Kashfi have been turning heads, especially in Continental Europe and Twisted Nerve Records (run by Andy Votel and Badly Drawn Boy) has been putting the excitement back into vinyl-only curios with a roster bursting with bedroom folktronica. Then there’s the elusive and enigmatic George.
Led by the spooky choir girl tones of Suzy Mangion (previously heard on Piano Magic’s guest-heavy Writers Without Homes last year), George have been quietly slipping out a trail of 7″ singles over the last couple years, building-up to the release of this first full-length outing on adventurous Leicester label Pickle-Egg. It’s undoubtedly been worth the wait. Built from an array of antique keyboards, sundry electronica gizmos, brushed drums, strings, and toy town percussion, The Magic Lantern is like no other album you’ll hear all year (from Manchester or elsewhere). Conjuring up the ambience of deserted Victorian theatres, empty lamp-lit country mansions, eerie haunted fairgrounds, and cobwebbed church stairwells, this is no day-glow commercial enterprise. But neither is it a dour depressing experience, particularly when the craftsmanship put into the album’s lush arrangements is so adorable and where Mangion’s serene vocals (and indeed those of her primary musical partner Michael Varty) smoulder with a comforting lullaby-like quality.
If you need less metaphorical, more contemporary comparisons, then begin looking at Mangion’s erstwhile Piano Magic paymasters. The synths and junkshop percussion on instrumentals like “Alpine” and “Picture Box” certainly betray affections for the first Piano Magic album, Popular Mechanics. The mesmerising slow glide of “Alone in the Country House” and “The Song the Lonely Heart Remembers” certainly both owe some kind of debt to Low’s lesser known long-player The Curtain Hits the Cast. Elsewhere the spell-binding string-led “Paces to Jericho” echoes the minimal neo-baroque moments of former Pickled Egg signees Savoy Grand. Less easy to pin down is the sublime “Sacremento” – but if you were to imagine Freakwater stripped of pedal steel and twang you might come close.
But such pigeon-holing is meaningless when George have fashioned a truly formidable first album (with little or no outside inference) that is rich with imagination and blessed with bountiful beatific grace. So fully formed is the sound on The Magic Lantern, that it’s anyone’s guess where George can go from here. In the meantime, however, raise a toast to this year’s most distinctive and downright magical debut.