Deep Magic, ‘Reflections of Most Forgotten Love’

Posted by on September 26, 2013


Preservation, 7/4/2013

As a touring member of Sun Araw — Cameron Stallones’ loose troupe of humid dub rovers — Deep Magic‘s Alex Gray will have been exposed to his fair share of psychedelic heat. Stallones’ music doesn’t so much evoke dense tropical warmth as drown you in it, often — as on earlier releases such as Boat Trip, Beach Head and Heavy Deeds — feeling as though the very act of hearing it could get you burnt. The slow bump and grind of dub- and nyabinghi-inflected jams like “Canopy” is equally at home on a beach as it is in a dark, clammy club — it’s overriding raison d’être, it would seem, is to evoke the blazing sun and its potential effects on the human psyche by worming its way into the listener’s mind and gradually pushing back out through the pores like so many hallucinogenic beads of sweat. Even later, relatively well-polished albums like 2011’s Ancient Romans seemed to tell the stories of its titular poets and generals through their constant need to mop their brown, dust-caked brows.

Deep Magic has a similarly heated atmosphere, but instead of basing his music right in the thick of it, Alex Gray waits until the sun drops low on the horizon and the effects it has had on the day and its tired inhabitants is beginning to wear off. Previous work, for his own Deep Tapes as well as a small selection of others, has ranged from the cooled-down meditative bliss of 2010’s Illuminated Offerings to last year’s star-spangled Elemental Interactions. Wherever you start, there is a definite element of dusk or dark to Deep Magic’s work, but never so much as to present any kind of threat or uncertainty. Instead, what you get is an aftermath of sorts, a winding-down with elements of exhausted enlightenment. If Sun Araw is the slow, sweat-soaked party, Deep Magic is the subsequent lull where steam rises in rainbows from the yawning congregation.

Recently Gray seems to have settled on Preservation, the Australian label that has handled his past three releases, including the shimmering Lucid Thought and a split cassette with Pimmon. Reflections of Most Forgotten Love sets out its stall early on, with the after-hours trickle of “Only You,” featuring gentle stream samples and a sentimental swell of steel guitar, but the initial fear that the album might flat-line into nature-worshipping New Age nonsense is scrubbed during “Subtle Reactions,” a frantic Fenneszian glitch of granulated synth manipulation that weaves chopped up vocals and a dessicated clang of wedding bells through its many sparking layers. As an opening salvo the duo sound disjointed until “Alone In Her Cave” takes thematic elements from both and unearths the rich connective seam that runs down through Reflections like a faded memory.

If the overall atmosphere is one of downbeat nostalgia, there remains an underlying trace of unrest in the way Gray repeatedly returns to minced, squidgy effects such as those that rise up through “Lapses in Reason” and it’s otherwise serene ambient veneer, and the swampy, sucking undercurrent that seems to engulf the guitar and break it down to splinters in “She Can Feel My Sadness.” This, it would seem, is a turning point, where “Brighter Days” is allowed to bloom from the breakdown and tentative percussion drives it upwards into relative clarity.

With a couple of exceptions (“Only Me,” for example, is a lo-fi riposte to the opening track and one that sees Gray in doomy singer-songwriter mode, mumbling his lyrics beneath a haze of tape hiss and over a few plucked guitar strings) Reflections of Most Forgotten Love maintains the sleepy twilight atmosphere redolent throughout most of Deep Magic’s catalogue, but it is water that takes centre stage. As the guitar wanders through “She Can Feel My Sadness” against a muffled backdrop of crashing waves, windswept images of salt-spattered beach walks flick across the backs of your eyes like a tearful slideshow; “Brighter Days,” on the other hand, is full of new beginnings and squirms with forest floor dewiness as shoots begin to poke through rotting pine needles.

Ultimately, it is Gray’s willingness to dwell in this soggy dusk that makes Reflections so satisfying and Deep Magic so recognisable a project. Whether he’s huddled beneath large leaves in the aftermath of a tropical storm (“Only You”) or walking through muggy steam plumes as the sun’s faint rays dry the earth (“Something in Her Eyes”), the entire album is as slick with liquid as Sun Araw’s work is bleached by the sun. This, I guess, is where the idea of reflection comes in: from staring sadly into pools, or catching your own ghostly silhouette flickering in a wall of mist.