Magnapop – Mouthfeel


I was doing some online research for a February edition of our regular Unappreciated Album of the Month column about Magnapop’s 1996 album Rubbing Doesn’t Help when I discovered that the band had a new album out just this month, the first since that 1996 release. And I was thrilled to find that Mouthfeel is everything I wanted and expected from this band, one of the truly underappreciated bands of the mid-90s.

For those unfamiliar with the band, Magnapop is primarily the singing/guitar duo of Linda Hopper and Ruthie Morris, along with a changing rhythm section that’s new for this album. Hopper’s singing style and Morris’ aggressive guitar have spawned fans as varied as Bob Mould (who produced the album Hot Boxing), Michael Stipe (who produced many of the band’s earlier demos), and Julianna Hatfield (who wrote the song “Ruthless” about Morris).

Anyone who thinks the mid-90s style of aggressive power-pop would sound dated in 2005 just needs to listen to Mouthfeel. The same style of crunchy guitars, catchy hooks, and contemplative songwriting are still there, perhaps tempered with more slower numbers than before, but it sounds every bit as fresh and original as it did in 1996. Fans of the Breeders and Sugar take note: this is the new album you’ve been waiting for.

Some tracks are rocking to the point of being nearly punk. The aggressive “Pdx” is a killer track, high-speed and riding a great bassline and some killer guitar riffs, and “Smile 4u” is an up-tempo riot-grrl-sounding track, complete with driving rhythm and gang chorus. Even Hopper’s voice on “Stick to Me” is edgy, nicely matching the driving guitars. Then there’s the lighter songs, more poppy tracks that really show off Hopper’s voice. Tracks like “Pretend I’m There” are brilliant, with jangly guitar and some nice, catchy choruses. “Satellite” is one of the best head-bopping tracks here, and Hopper’s voice is surprisingly sweet on this stellar track. And “California” is a softer and lighter rock songs, more pop in nature.

The chorus of “I wish that time was measured in, not just measured out” and “Everyone is waiting for the earth to sing along / Hoooooold on tight” on “We’re Faded” will become an instant sing-along. The catchies, most upbeat song is likely “The In-Between,” with its sing-along chorus of “situation’s ordinary / not permanent in between / time well spent traveling / time well spent in between” and hand-claps over the album’s most blazing and brilliant guitar work. I defy you not to sing along with the chorus of “Here’s to hoping the darkness will end / Let me thank you for being my friend / You’re the sun in my open sky” at the end of “Pilgrim’s Prayer,” especially as a chorus of singers comes in to take the song out.

My only complaint with Mouthfeel is that there’s no obvious single, no track as catchy and impeccable as “Slowly, Slowly” from Hot Boxing or “Open the Door” from Rubbing Doesn’t Help. (The closest is probably “The In-Between.”) Then again, a single isn’t needed. This album is cohesive enough, and every song is good enough, that no track leaps out as a favorite, but neither is any track a clunker. This is just picture-perfect power-pop from a band that perfected the genre long ago, and thank goodness they came back to grace us with another brilliant gem.