The Brooklyn-based band, Cuddle Magic, just dropped their fifth album, “Ashes/Axis,” this past Friday.
This electronic indie-folk band formed in 2007, beginning with members Ben Lazar Davis and Christopher McDonald. Members Kristin Slipp, Alec Spiegelman and Cole Kamen-Green joined soon after. Since then they have collaborated with musicians from all over the genre spectrum including the nearly ubiquitous Beyonce, independents such as Anais Mitchell and Amanda Palmer, and avante-garde performers Fred Frith and Ran Blake.
Cuddle Magic’s past albums, including two full-length albums, have always had a poppy sound, but their newest album kind of shies away from that. For listeners looking for a complete indie-pop album, you might not prefer this one. However, there is this sense of completeness after you listen to“Ashes/Axis,” as if the band members exhausted themselves perfecting every song.
This detailed songwriting approach can be found in “Slow Rider,” “Trojan Horse,” and “Gateway” which are all inspired by Bawa music from Northwestern Ghana. This simple twist shakes up their already distinguished sound, choosing to create their songs around the sound of the gyl, a wooden xylophone that is used in Ghanaian music.
The album’s opening track, “Slow Rider,” features the wispy vocals of Slipp singing the repetitive verse, “You’re a slow rider baby, I’m a slow rider baby”. This track is a little monotonous in its tempo, but it is definitely an electric pop song worthy of listening to before going out for a fun night.
The next track, “Kiss You,” has a similar sound to their past music. Its lyrics take you through the moment where you question yourself about your next step. Should you kiss the person? Or, maybe they make up their mind before you ever do.
“Spinning,” track three, is a personal favorite. It’s the only song on the album where the band plays more with the tempo, while creating a dark kind of electronic indie song that sounds fresh and organic. This song is a turning point in the album because it reveals a lot of pain in the vocals.
I’m not usually a fan of albums that have two songs that are parts of each other; therefore, when I see them on an album I usually feel let down. I understand that’s pretty biased on my part, but I cannot help but to think one song is unfinished. I didn’t have high hopes for “The First Hippie On the Moon Pt 1 or 2”. Part one is too slow, and it met my expectations. Yet, part two features Slipp singing a chilling opening, until 90 seconds in when an unexpected saxophone makes a blaring outburst.
“Trojan Horse,” track six and the first song to be released, had its strong roots in Ghanaian music. Because of its drumming intro and vague, mysterious lyrics, “another one waiting for someone, another one waiting for the sun,” makes it definitely a track to listen to.
One of the last songs, “Voicemail,” has a slight techno-sound behind the soft vocals of once again Slipp, who just wants a call back even though she knows she made a royal mess. Like some of the other songs on the album, Cuddle Magic uses a soprano harmony in “Voicemail” that adds an unfamiliar touch. This song shows off each band member’s performances compliment each other and add to the band’s versatility.
Track ten, “Round and Round,” is the last track on the album. This song has the classic ‘band sound,’ by primarily being made up of an acoustic guitar and drums. There is this tantalizing layered aesthetic to the song’s vocals, as if you could pull apart each singer’s voice. The song is beautiful in the way it lifts you into a sleepy mood.
“Ashes/Axis,” is overall fantastic, especially if you are looking for an album with diverse genres and moods. One song will make you want to dance, while the next makes you eager to understand its meaning. Cuddle Magic have really outdone themselves with this one.