Miami synth-pop duo Magdalena Bay consists of songwriter/vocalist Mica Tenenbaum and musician/producer Matthew Lewin. The pair met as high school students, first playing together at Live! Modern School of Music. They formed a progressive rock band named Tabula Rasa, before going to college in separate states and breaking off their romantic relationship. After college they resumed their relationship and formed Magdalena Bay. Both Lewin and Tenenbaum have roots in the Argentinian Jewish community – Tenenbaum was born in Buenos Aires, as was Lewin’s father.
The pair are fans of Fiona Apple, as well as the modern pop of Grimes and Carly Rae Jepsen. Their synth-pop is simultaneously retro and futuristic. They have a distinctive, kitsch aesthetic, creating videos on a green screen in their Los Angeles apartment. They took their name a former coworker of Lewin’s, rather than from the location in Mexico.
Magdalena Bay Album Reviews
A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling
The EP A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling collates Magdalena Bay’s singles over 2019 and 2020, and adds two new tracks. It works as a dry run for Mercurial World. It’s classy synth-pop that’s a clear signpost of the duo’s potential, but it’s less idiosyncratic and interesting than what was to come.
‘Killshot’ has become the most well-known song on the record with its video game references. Opener ‘How To Get Physical’ supplied the EP’s title, and it’s my favourite song here with its lovely verse melody – it’s not far away from Carly Rae Jepsen’s ebullient 1980s retro-pop. There’s other strong material too, like ‘Venice’ and ‘Airplane’, it’s just not as engaging as Mercurial World.
A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling is charming synth-pop, and Magdalena Bay’s debut album would build on it impressively.
Mercurial World amps up the band’s pretensions a few notches, it opens with a song titled ‘The End’ and closes with ‘The Beginning’. Lewin wrote in a press release that “We spend all of our time together, and in a way Mercurial World talks about that particular feeling of insanity in confinement, ”
Pretentious isn’t a pejorative in this case – when Tenenbaum and Lewin hit their stride they make some of my favourite music I’ve featured on this column from this year. Mercurial World is sleek and futuristic, but there’s also a healthy dose of retro – the warm keyboards recall the smooth sounds of 1970s yacht-rock, while the tunes are often driven by funky bass lines. Tenenbaum’s coquettish vocals are full of personality. The pair also have a great visual presence, like this video for ‘Secrets (Your Fire)’:
The first half of Mercurial World is particularly impressive – ‘Dawning of the Season’ has a killer chorus, while ‘Secrets (Your Fire)’ opens with a burbling synth that could have come straight from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. ‘Hysterical Us’ rides its yacht rock groove hard, while ‘Chaeri’ is sparse and lovely. Mercurial World runs out of steam a little in the second half – in particular, ‘Prophecy’ is a little leaden. After all the fantastical fun, the normality of the line “When you’re lying next to me/You’re so real and I believe” has an unfortunate grounding effect.
Mercurial World is an impressive debut, an intensely creative duo flexing their creative muscles.
Best Magdalena Bay Songs
Dawning of the Season
Secrets (Your Fire)
How To Get Physical
Back to 2020s Album Reviews…
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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