Jack Name’s past work was exceptionally epic and wild. On Name’s first two albums, 2014’s Light Snow and 2015’s Weird Moons, songs were long, pitch-shifted, or just plain weird, and sometimes all of these things at once. There was a lot to get through for the listener. Although sounding pleasantly warm and homemade, the production was a tangled weave of angular tones that would take a whole crew wielding machetes to cut through. And that’s just the aural description. Lyrically, Light Snow and Weird Moons are about a cosmic battle of good vs. evil and werewolves, respectively.
Name’s newest, Magic Touch, out now on Mexican Summer, has a connecting theme as well, but it’s quite different and a bit more human: personal relationships. Musically, it’s a further step for Name as well. It’s like that machete-wielding crew made it through the thick forest and found themselves in a dimly lit dive at 2:00 am while Jack Name and a small combo are in the corner holding court in sunglasses.
The music on Magic Touch itself is loose and a little gritty, with the group as a whole sounding a little raw and rough on the edges. In “Do You Know Ida No?” the keys sound urgent and bound to the song, as their presence in the song is holding it all together, and if they were to take a breath, the whole group might fall in a puddle at their shoes. The guitar spins creepy, after-hours web throughout the album, and the bass slinks around in the dark. The lead guitar in “I Came to Tell You in Plain English” will stop you in your tracks, not because it is out of this word beautiful or technically flashy. No, it is so startling because it is one of the few moments where an instrument is speaking with sober confidence. All this is not to say the music is of low quality because it is not but to illustrate the vibe being constructed on Magic Touch.
Lyrically, the album is much more grounded than past albums. In some spots, like “A Moving-on Blues”, it’s confessional. “Things they were real, and suddenly they went away.” In other places, it’s art-beat poetry, like in “Kick-Around Johnny”, where Name sounds a little like Lou Reed saying, “Heaven might have made you bright, so shine every bit of the light.” More than anything, these lyrics are about people interacting with people, often through touch.
Jack Name likes to make little worlds with his albums, and Magic Touch is no exception. I found myself thinking of it as a prose work. His past works evoked pulpy sci-fi. Magic Touch evokes the more sober moments of memoirs like Just Kids, The Basketball Diaries, or Please Kill Me. You’re in a place that could use a few more light bulbs. There’s a group in the corner barely holding it together, but you love them for who they are. Lean back and live in Jack Name’s world for a little.