By Devon Risner
[Atlantic Records; 2022]
Key Tracks: “Sugar”, “Unwell”, “TVI”
After the recent rise in popularity of their hit single “Freaks” in 2015 and the success of subsequent single “Disco” in 2019, Surf Curse released something completely different from their early albums. Unfortunately, they fell into the path of the “alt-rock” radio machine where you would be hard-pressed to hear a song that really stands out. Compared to their second most recent record Heaven Beside You, this new album feels overproduced. It almost comes as no surprise, because this is the first record they released with The Atlantic Recording Company. All other albums before were self-recorded and released, so the feel and mojo of the band lives there, not with Atlantic.
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The A-side of the record is a monotonous listen, with uninspired lyrics and generic guitar riffs. “Arrow”, the record’s opener, is a high-energy pop-punk song that feels like any other pop-punk that has been released in the past 20 years. “Sugar” was one of three tracks to receive a music video, which makes sense with it being one of the poppier, catchier songs on the record. It doesn’t really strike me as an interesting song, but an easy listen as far as pop-punk goes. “Self Portrait”, which also received a music video, has guitar and bass riffs that are more memorable, and the drums feel more alive and dynamic. However, it still is lacking a little personality. Track 6, “Unwell”, is where this record becomes its own creation and feels more like the band is itself. This is a perfect example of the band trying something new, with an acoustic folky opening riff. As the song progresses, it turns into a heavy slam, almost metal-like breakdown feel, then right back to the acoustic guitar. It ends on a beautiful string and keyboard part that seems to come out of nowhere. Sonically, it feels fresh, unlike the beginning of the album. Track 8, “TVI” is the last track to receive a music video. This is where the band feels more at home. Jangly guitar tones, a loud chorus, and more singable vocal lines. Surf Curse meets west coast punk is the feeling that comes to mind with this track. The closer, “Randall Flagg,” is nothing too exciting.
Magic Hour is a bit of a disappointment. Seeing this band get a major record deal with the indie surf rock touch they brought was an exciting opportunity, but ultimately, the feel was lost. Seeing this with the band only on their fourth LP is almost heartbreaking. To say they “sold out” would be too harsh, but it certainly feels like it. Of course, change and evolution are important to all bands, but no small part of the tracks seem to lack any sense of the band’s identity.