I’ll start off on a silly note by saying that, if nothing else, I’ve always loved the name of this band since they first flew into my field of vision a few years back. Recently learning the story behind it made it even better.
When the members of what’s now Cuddle Magic first started playing together, they only played acoustic and had to do so quietly and closely together physically to obtain the correct sound. Said huddle was magical and a band name was born.
Cuddle Magic is Benjamin Lazar Davis, Christopher McDonald, Dave Flaherty, Alec Spiegelman, Cole Kamen-Greer and Kristin Slipp. Band members have collaborated with the likes of Beyonce and Amanda Palmer, and they’ve just dropped their fifth record, “Ashes/Axis.” These creators of avant-pop are co-based in Philly and Brooklyn. The new album’s been floating in and out of my ears for the past week or so and what a spellbinding trip down the rabbit hole it’s been.
The opening track is “Slow Rider” with an onslaught of huge synths and magnetic beats that lead you into the trippy vocals by Slipp. “I like a slow ride/You look like a slow rider/Let the world go by/Watch it from the outside.” I can picture thousands of aliens swaying together to this song on a planet where they get around by sliding down rainbow arches and eat Fluffernutter sandwiches at every meal. I also walked a few laps around the South Portland Community Center track listening to this song, and it made me feel cool. The song is a kaleidoscope of sounds but also has a kind of chill groove to it. Very multi-purposeful.
Slipp also handles lead vocals on “The First Hippie on the Moon, Pt. II” and “Voice Mail.” “Hippie” is from an entirely different planet than “Slow Rider.” The first thing you hear sounds like a tiny UFO taking off that melts into a hypnotizing — well, honestly, I don’t know what I’m hearing, perhaps a voice that’s been electronically manipulated into sounding like a theremin. Either way, it’s not the only interesting sound in the song, there’s several that converge at once creating an experimental landscape for your ears and mind to traverse.
“Trojan Horse” was co-written by Davis and Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney, a longtime Cuddle Magic collaborator. Part of this song, along with “Slow Rider” and “Getaway” were influenced by Bawa music from Northwestern Ghana and were written with a wooden xylophone called a gyil in mind. In other words, it’s a trip.
Another track that has me glowing over Cuddle Magic is “Spinning” which also has a nifty video shot on a beach during which a person made of sand sits next to one made of ice and they each face a pre-ordained fate as the tide comes in. The song has a sense of fierceness to it but isn’t trying to hit you over the head. “I’ve been choosing all the words that I would say to him/I was feeling, feeling like a, like a girl without a plan/I don’t need that plan, but I need that man alive.” The song is downright trance-inducing.
Check out the “Spinning” video
All of this is to say that after you’ve listened to all of “Ashes/Axis” you’ll feel like you’ve had your passport stamped by several planets where everyone is welcome.
I’ve never seen Cuddle Magic live but that’s going to change — finally. What’s more, local multi-instrumentalist and maker of experimental pop Jeff Beam is opening the show. Beam and Cuddle Magic are the quintessential match made in musical heaven, and this is going to be a show that will make you feel like you’re looking at Day-Glo posters under a black light while being led down the yellow brick road into a Technicolor world with sounds that you didn’t know existed and songs that will mesmerize and enchant you, making you a believer in Cuddle Magic.
I reached out to the band to get a better handle on what kind of instruments and sounds are on “Ashes/Axis” and bless their hearts, they reported back with a comprehensive list, part of which I’ll share with you now. On this record you’ll hear moog bass, bass double keyboard, trumpet, pump organ, perc triggering reverbed vocoder, clarinet, Yamaha synth, piano, guitar, drums and some other things that sound like they could be on a spaceship takeoff checklist. Open your mind to the experience of it, and I think you’ll find “Ashes/Axis” to be a truly unique listening experience, especially live during their One Longfellow Square show. Seat belts are optional, but feel free to wear your moon boots and 3D glasses.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, $12 in advance, $15 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com