Desert Magic is an LA-based collective comprised of the talents of Alex Wand, Steven Van Betten and Logan Hone, all alumni of Cal Arts. With backgrounds in composition, folk, jazz, songwriting, and world music, they manage to succeed in creating genre-bending sound world that honors not only their musical pedigrees, but also our human histories as well.
A Round the Sun consists of a collection of songs and rounds that were have been “released piecemeal” on the equinoxes and solstices of this year. The album coalesces upon a shared middle ground that is earthy, wholesome and honest: a world that can be difficult to inhabit while also maintaining experimentalism and a sense of the mystic. From inclusion of samples from NASA’s sound archive to the weightless quality of the trios voices, the album doesn’t try to hide the joy and haunting beauty with which it appreciates our time on earth, and the passing thereof.
With such a large set of rounds, there is always the chance of a form getting stale, but A Round the Sun plays with formal elements, tonalities and instrumentation plenty enough that the old counterpoint feels new and interesting each time it is presented. The most power parts of the album are the points when the processes used to create the pieces are dished out to us the listener. On Venus Takes Jupiter, a round is introduced with text that wanders from a more whimsical metaphoric take on the orbits of the titular planets to a mathematical/musical explanation of the phasing loops that follow.
While the core instrumentation could seem folk-ish or even poppy, usually hovers about guitar based groves with floating vocal lines above, guitar preparations, an expansive array of guitars, and Logan Hone’s multi-instrumentalism throw in new timbral (and at times tuning system) choices just before the color pallet gets stale. What I can only assume is Erhu on The Other String Theory and a carefully tasteful sax solo in the middle of Commonly Observed Phenomenon expand complement the loops that permeate the album.
While this exact brand of zodiac contrapuntal songwriting seems like it might have a hard time finding a home in a concert hall or a club, the grey-area-ness of its classification will lead to a rewarding listen for anyone who is looking for an album that exists in the cracks of classification, and will pay off with melody lines that can circle through one’s head for days after listening, begging to be rewound and re-listened and timbres and layers that are supremely joyful and poignant and at times absolutely laid bare in their sincerity.
Listen to The U and I off of A Round the Sun below: