Irish Band Of The Week – Exmagician
This week’s Irish Band of the week is exmagician, comprised of Danny Todd and James Smith, who have been working together since their teens, trying to create multifaceted, sonically adventurous music. The Belfast duo had already achieved critical acclaim as the songwriter behind Cashier No.9. The David Holmes-produced album, To The Death of Fun, was hailed as an album with lush flourishes with strong lyrical performances, received several promising nods including Best Album at the NI Music Awards, as well as being shortlisted for Best Album of 2011 by the Irish Times, strong radio support from BBC 6 Music, Radio 1 and Radio 2 and a string of sold-out club dates and major festival appearances across the UK and Ireland.
It probably would have been easier to rest on the laurels of such acclaim but the boys were eager to learn, develop, and move on from this – working on some self-written and produced tracks with the help of the Midas touch of Rocky O’Reilly (And So I Watch You From Afar, General Fiasco, Mojo Fury), for a sound that was less embellished, grittier, dirtier, with a don’t-give-a-damn attitude.
‘It’s the dirt under the fingernails’, says Danny.
Their first release as exmagician, Scan the Blue, marks this development with aggressive riffs, synths galore, and the screech of guitar, a musical reinvention to the core. Their music is unapologetically adventurous, ‘Kiss that Wealth Goodbye’ is beautifully layered with daring, psychedelic stylings. Indeed, they never seem to rest on one style, there’s an audacity to how they move from shuffling fuzz to a more melodic jazz vibe, with recurring guest Linley Hamilton to give a more relaxed feeling to tracks like ‘Place Your Bets’. Tunes like ‘Smile to the Gallery’ are even more relaxed, almost unwinding into heavy-lidded grooves.
The brilliance in this album is the fact that Danny and James took full control of all production elements, which meant that they could produce a track rife with their courageous spirit, veering from the more ethereal to the outright manic. These songs have been carefully crafted over some time and only recorded and tweaked once the duo knew they were ready to be heard. Danny compares the process to sculpture, ‘chipping away at it’ until the song is finished.
The boys have admitted that they’re not ones for soppy love ballads, admitting that their tracks focus more on the intrinsic themes of ‘Hope, trust and revenge, they always fall into those three categories’, says Danny. The title track, ‘Scan the Blue’, is an undeniably beautiful track of hazy, chamber-pop. This whole album is a lesson in how to keep changing their style and sound, it’s a physical mark of Danny and James’ musical evolution and reinvention.
Exmagician play Whelan’s, Dublin, on 5 April and Dolan’s, Limerick, on 6 April.