30 September 2020 (released)
09 October 2020
With the current paradigm of streaming as king, music fans and musicians are exposed to more than ever before but at the same time, the tendency to listen to music solely in your niche has never been higher. Meticulously targeted playlists have trumped the wide net of FM radio. You can have thousands of hours of your specific style pumped to you without ever hearing a note from one of those “other” subgenres. North American audiences are now divided into factions with such staunch disdain for those not in their bubble. Do you listen to art-post-punk indie or Americana indie?? The FM model of showcasing the range of alternative music is dead. However, when a group of musicians outside the major markets are alchemizing their sound, they seem to have the freedom to pick from a wider array of influences. Perhaps it's the effect that living outside the social pressures of the major scenes has on a project.
Based in Larnaca, Cyprus, alternative outfit The smallest Creature has painted a picture on their latest LP Magic Beans that takes advantage of a broad palette of influences that at best can be held under the big umbrella of “alternative”. The record is incredibly well-crafted. Smooth and cohesive, taking these disparate colours and finding their own signature sound that feels both unique and like a trip through the music of the last 30 years. The project began as a solo project based in New York until vocalist and guitarist Stefanos Marnerides moved back to his hometown and assembled the band. Magic Beans has elements of showgaze, Brit-pop, desert rock, grunge, psych rock, and singer-songwriter delicacy all rolled into one dreamy package.
Guitar dressed up as an organ gives a distinct 70s feel to the intro of 'Would You Blink', finding itself in the reverb-soaked fog of a Who key break. Marnerides ushers in the album with a wispy croon as the band swells in. The propulsive drive of In Rainbows era Radiohead, ...Like Clockwork era Queens of the Stone Age, and A.M. era Arctic Monkeys fuses into a groovy, blissful ride. Rippling guitar effects coalesce with the rising vocals to amplify a signal out into the ether. Arty alternative at its finest.
'October Song' finds its sauntering melancholy in that plodding mid-2000s indie-rock feel. 'Glow' touches on Weezer's template if it had less preppy shmaltz and a little more of Nirvana's grit. 'You Are Ready' dives further into the psyche with a masterful blend of psych-rock guitars with brit-pop rhythmic sensibilities which grows to a ripping mystery tour climax. This is the heart of The smallest Creature's sound.
The second side holds driving fuzz-soaked rockers like the playful 'Let Burn' who's densely-layered distortion outro again recalls Josh Homme and co.'s work of the last decade. Lazy Sunday spin-out 'Find' hangs on big open suspended chords that draw on a post-90s heyday Oasis circa 2000's Standing On the Shoulders of Giants, possibly the maligned Brit group's least annoying offering. The long drawn out vibe continues on 'Cut Through Me' which leans heavily into shoegaze territory, even bordering on a less distortion-soaked Deftones. Melodically deep and enveloping like a medicated trance. The final two tracks highlight Marnerides' vulnerable songwriting stylings, venturing into Elliot Smith territory (minus the overwhelming self-pity). Big waves of broad overdriven chords wash out the end of this eclectic yet tightly amalgamated record.
Magic Beans is a testament to the fact that there are still great alternative albums to be written. Ethereal enough to capture the imagination yet grounded enough to hit home. Marnerides and the rest of the Creature show what having a broad palette can accomplish.