The spirit of art: A review of “To The Islands” by The Magic Lantern

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Artist: The Magic Lantern
Release date: November 2, 2018
Label: Hectic Eclectic Records
Genre: Alternative/Indie
Producer: The Magic Lantern

Rating: 8.3/10

There’s a certain place that music takes you, and though for every music lover this place might be slightly different, we can all share the fact that there is such a place. Sometime this place is solitary, or shared by friends or lovers, or exists in some transcendent plane of existence inaccessible by any other mode of life.

People have often said it about music, or any sort of art: “It takes you somewhere.” What does this mean? I don’t know if you can explain it, but each person knows it when they feel it, sort of like that elusive, joyous feeling we call love.

I get the feeling listening to the latest effort “To The Islands” by The Magic Lantern that this can place can exist as much for the musician as the listener, and that this fantasy environment created by a piece of art can be shared by both. This hypothetical “place” is where you meet and encounter the singer’s spirit, the side of him that exists and is planted in his art to grow and become known to the world.  

Every artist who releases their work to the world does this whether they know it or not. They have created a public persona, an artistic “spirit” that will have a relationship with every person who interacts with their art. Listening to “Blue” by Joni Mitchell over the years, I feel like I have come, through the songs, to know her. Not the living, breathing Joni, but an extension of her, the spirit of “Blue” which I have conversed and spent time with almost as if with a close friend or a wise mentor.

Similarly, one of the major draws of “To The Islands” is its almost quixotic solitude that pours out of singer Jamie Doe’s spirit. The music may take the listener to his or her own place, but that’s also because the Jamie seems to be trying to do it himself, using the music as a bridge to a different world.

To this effect Jamie Doe, under his moniker The Magic Lantern, has undeniably expanded on his sound on “To The Islands.” Steeping his warm, melancholy voice in vibrations of jazz and atmospheres of folk, he’s put together an album wholly unique and full of life. There’s a refined sense to the record that shows just how much work Doe has put in, how much his “spirit” has been injected into each song. Alternatively, there is also something cinematic and far reaching about each track. The quiet recollections of “Re: Her” would seem appropriate in a Studio Ghibli film, and “Masks” finds Doe musing over a chamber string arrangement, one that feels as sacred as a visit to an abandoned church.

The exploratory feel of the album – a songwriter boldly trying to find new modes and ways of expression – is encapsulated by the single “Holding Hands.” It was the first track to capture my attention from the album, and still stands out as one of the album’s best. The song’s first act finds saxophones acting as the chordal blanket on top of which Doe expounds his yearning, romantic sensibilities: “I’m searching, for my true love / And I know she’s there / Just carry on, just carry on.” His lyrics are childlike in their simplistic hopefulness, but are contrasted with a smart, minimal arrangement that, together, form a song at the intersection of what makes adulthood such a whirlwind of dashed hopes and renewed desire.

If it completes the story for you, it might be good to know that Jamie Doe did find his “true love” during the course of making the record, eventually marrying fellow musician Rhia Parker. “Re: Her,” the instrumental at the end of the record, seems to respond to the ideas of the other songs with this wonderful fact. Joyous sections appear in other parts of the record, like at the end of “Scattered Leaves” where he sings in what sounds to me like an indecipherable language of his own creation. This all comes at the finale of a song largely about failure and regret.

There’s plenty to love here, enough to prove that “To The Islands” has the power to become The Magic Lantern’s breakthrough album. Though a beloved musician in English folk circuits, a more expansive popularity has so far eluded him, which means it’ll be interesting to see how this album does on the market. Although songs like “Holding Hands” and “Albatross” have the potential to be sleeper hits, the album’s oblique chord structures and quiet, reserved moments have the possibility of turning off listeners, ones who may feel initially drawn to the singer’s vibrant romanticism. It’s a shame, too. “To The Islands” rewards those who put time into developing a relationship with it. Though it may not shock or dazzle at first, it is an album that is incredibly rewarding as you dig more into its details.

So, here’s a brief suggestion for this album. Brew a cup of tea, turn off your phone, and sit down with “To The Islands.” Talk with it, make remarks, observe your mind’s own drifting ideas, and see comes of it. Maybe nothing will, and that in itself is beautiful.

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