Magic Hour fuzzes out improvisationally, Amanar builds musical communities
In an interview for Perfect Sound Forever, guitarist/vocalist and Magic Hour founder Wayne Rogers said, “I have a gut negative reaction to anything self-consciously psychedelic.” At first, this sounded like an unusual thing to say from a musician who ostensibly has built a career from largely psychedelic sounds, but it makes sense if one understands his sources and intentions.
Rogers’ gloriously fuzzed-out and distorted electric guitar excursions and improvisations, with occasional wah-wah flourishes, sound natural and unforced; rather than aping Nuggets-era garage rockers, Rogers was influenced by mid-century Chicago blues guitarists such as Otis Rush and Buddy Guy and also the Yardbirds. His style is not an affectation, setting himself apart from those who would be considered revivalists, and a better word than “psychedelic” comes to mind: cathartic.
Following the ‘80s run for his band Crystalized Movements, for just a few years in the mid-’90s, Rogers led the quartet Magic Hour with longtime collaborator guitarist Kate Biggar (currently in the group Major Stars with Rogers) and the rhythm section of drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang, formerly of Galaxie 500 and also known as the duo Damon and Naomi.
Magic Moments is a new odds and sods collection released digitally on Bandcamp with single, EP and compilation tracks, and it traces the group’s evolution during its relatively short career, as it moved toward longer, freer songs. The 15-minute cover of “Permanent Green Light,” originally recorded by the primitive ESP-Disk’s recording artists Godz, is a perfectly appropriate hypnotic trance, about the permissive titular device that allows you to go “on and on.”
Magic Hour wasn’t always about the long, muddy grooves, and its cover of “America” by the Pervian band Traffic Sound and the 7” single “Heads Down,” split into two sides because of its length, offer pop vocal melodies that may appeal to fans of, say, Teenage Fanclub. Both Yang and Krukowski manage to retain their own playing identities in Magic Hour, with Yang’s high-register, contemplative bass lines and Krukowski’s measured playing that can unleash a controlled fury when needed.
Perhaps the collection’s most intriguing moment is the final untitled 9-minute track, originally on the compilation Marvelous Sound Forms, which takes a new direction with rattling percussion, acoustic guitars, and what sounds like a harmonium drone; it would serve as the final ever Magic Hour recording, sealing yet opening the history for an under-recognized band.
When this writer thinks of west African Tuareg guitar-rock, he thinks of the fiery electric guitar lines from Group Bombino (specifically, the stunning release Guitars from Agadez, Vol. 2 which drew him in), played with a flowing passion; that’s just one way to go about it, though.
So, ironically, a release like Tumastin by the northern Mali group Amanar was more difficult to grasp, not because it was too far on the fringes of desert rock, but because of the opposite—it doesn’t really get that wild. Then, this writer realized that he had a flawed notion of his normative view of Tuareg rock and that not everything needs to be measured by the same yardstick.
Formed by Ahmed Ag Kaedi in 2005 in the Kidal region of northern Mali, Amanar takes its name from the word for the constellation Orion, which would be visible in the sky during the group’s late night rehearsals. Amanar doesn’t go for flash. Its energy is doled out gradually, with a slow burn, with nothing more complicated than necessary and a moderated attitude; its simplicity makes it a little more accessible than some contemporaries.
Northern Mali has experienced political turmoil in the last few years, and rather than making a revolutionary call to arms, Amanar’s lyrics reflect more practical and hopeful concerns such as community building.
For those seeking energetic Tuareg rock, start with the album’s title track, with a compelling rhythmic tug and call-and-response multi-octave vocals; “Agna” unveils an easy-going rock method, with a salvo of vocal ululations, and acoustic guitar strums tag-teaming electric guitar licks.
However, Tumastin saves its best track for its final track: “Sin Orane” uses hand-struck drums and an acoustic guitar, rooted with pedal notes, to serve up a soulful, stirring number, favoring a gentle persuasion over force.