The Los Angeles-based music duo Magdalena Bay builds extremely curated, unmistakably upscale pop sounds for an period of Internet stardom. The singer Mica Tenenbaum and the engineer Matthew Lewin write, produce, direct, and edit their songs and movies collectively, balancing posh music with a cheeky on-line presence. Having now workshopped their music for half a decade, turning into extra assured of their songcraft, they’re beginning to optimize the method.
For all their aptitude, Tenenbaum and Lewin didn’t start as pop artists. They met in highschool, in 2011, at an after-school music program in North Miami, Florida, performing in separate bands. They began courting and creating collectively. Tenenbaum joined Lewin to make prog rock in a band referred to as Tabula Rosa. Tenenbaum sang and performed keyboard. Lewin performed guitar and blended and produced the data. The music was greater than competently composed. The title track from the final Tabula Rosa album, “Crimson,” ends with a winding twenty-minute epic of cascading guitar solos and piano arpeggios. Tenenbaum’s voice is clear and uncompressed, unmodified and pure in tone. College separated them. Tenenbaum went to the University of Pennsylvania, the place she spent her time performing with a ladies’s sketch-comedy troupe; Lewin went to Northeastern, to review the music enterprise. They reunited one faculty winter break, trying to begin a brand new undertaking. What started as an experiment in craft, and a bit of an artwork joke, shortly shifted right into a full-time gig making actual pop music. Having by no means significantly thought-about pop of their teenagers, they thought making it could be straightforward.
When Magdalena Bay fashioned, in 2016, there have been a number of artists already warping pop’s dimensions, and some of them grew to become the group’s blueprint: the high-functioning, digital pop of Grimes, the eased-up, poised art-pop of Chairlift, and Charli XCX’s dive into the consumerist, hyperbolic PC Music art collective. Pop is commonly disparaged for its factory-like track manufacturing, and though that’s nonetheless the norm, these up to date pop artists had been emphasizing the non-public of their work. Until not too long ago, Magdalena Bay was a totally D.I.Y. operation run out of the duo’s condo. They didn’t get the texture of pop immediately: the early stuff, whereas proficient, appears practically A.I.-generated in its flavorlessness. With extra follow, the songs grew to become fuller. Eventually, their sound mirrored time invested within the Internet, incorporating on-line sounds and rhythms. On their 2020 EP “A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling,” they laid the inspiration for his or her musical future—as a tagline on their TikTok places it, “Synthpop straight from the simulation 💋.”
Their polished music is backed by a cross-media plan. The group’s mini-mix sequence channels the VHS-degraded high quality of public-access tv and the antics of the Surrealist comedy that spoofed it within the early twenty-tens. A model of one of the songs, from their single “Killshot,” went viral on YouTube final yr when it was edited in a preferred format for the platform: with the music slowed to a crawl, as a soundtrack to pictures from anime. Magdalena Bay well launched an official version just a few months later in response. (In one of their TikTok videos, Tenenbaum provides a rundown of your entire scenario that’s as goofy because the scenario itself.) Loads of the group’s social media features on this approach—extramusical content material that’s phantasmagoric, promotional, or self-referential, pulling the viewer again into the music’s orbit. Their Web site alludes to the static pages of Web 1.0, when domains felt like remoted realms constructed with handmade HTML. Being very online isn’t simply half of Magdalena Bay’s attraction; it’s inherent to their world-building. Through an interactive program, they’ve got down to set up their very own pocket dimension.
Their début album, “Mercurial World,” is well one of the best, most lustrous, most fastidiously thought-about music they’ve made. Lewin has mentioned that the album, partially, displays the “madness” of their quarantine isolation. “We live together and make art together; this immerses you in our creative, insular universe,” he mentioned. The music is magnificently self-contained, regardless of drawing from a number of generations of pop type. If hyperpop, the micro-genre outlined by its absurdity, makes a dizzying, incoherent but euphoric mess of its many elements, then Magdalena Bay takes a extra subtle and streamlined strategy, pulling from comparable supply materials to push in the wrong way, creating one thing congruous, orderly, and stylish. The kitsch high quality, the garishness, the overwhelming amplitude is changed with subtlety and ornate element. Songs corresponding to “Hysterical Us” and “Secrets (Your Fire)” mix the animating neon luminosity of Miami’s beachfront get together strip, Ocean Drive, with the brisk, top-down funk of the West Coast.
The enchantment of “Mercurial World” comes from its totally synthesized sound. The duo’s crash course in pop generated a hybridized, sugary product. They have cited figures of each period—Madonna, Fiona Apple, Britney Spears—as influences, connections which might be extra felt than articulated. But this music additionally exists in a panorama carved out by artists corresponding to Rina Sawayama and Poppy, the place the artwork appears to be interfacing with broader Internet tradition. There are extra latent parts, too: the pastel hues of essentially the most shrewdly organized Okay-pop; the glint, rush, and graphic coloration of video-arcade mania; and trendy indie pop’s flip towards method. As Tenenbuam’s singing surges from a scratchy half whisper to a wail on “You Lose!,” the observe kinds a display screen of buzzing noises made out of Pac-Man squelches, elastic synths, and hammering drums.
Tenenbaum’s voice is on the core of all of these glowing, artificial songs. She all the time appears to present a track exactly what it wants, together with her vocals touched up simply sufficient to suit the aesthetic—be it the faint echoes in “Dawning of the Season” or the hallucinatory hisses all through “Dreamcatching.” From the title observe onward, her singing is gently piped into the crevices of these fancy productions, like decorative frosting on specialty desserts. In the muted chamber pop of “Prophecy,” Tenenbaum sounds practically cherubic, conjuring the innocence of turn-of-the-millennium teen pop. “When you’re lying next to me / I don’t need no make-believe,” she murmurs. A track later, on “Follow the Leader,” she sings like a digital idol navigating a night-club simulator. Inside the sharply designed “Mercurial World,” her vocal performances give the music its illusory really feel and its canniness. “I don’t want to tell you everything about me / I don’t wanna feed more oxygen to / Your fire,” she sings, on “Secrets (Your Fire),” and that very same quiet sense of thriller is what permits the music of Magdalena Bay to occupy its personal dream house.