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Dark to Light

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Album Review

It took forever, by pop standards, for Magic Music duo Frank Phillet and Neil MacIver to get their music heard. Together since the early '70s as a songwriting team, they finally made it onto CD with this 1995 release. There are pronounced new wave overtones on Dark to Light, which makes perfect sense if you consider the album was recorded between 1985 and 1988. Phillet has the deep, floating voice of Jim Kerr matched with the eerie quality of David Bowie, with phrasing so perfect for the songs that it seems as if he is talking, holding a conversation. Phillet and MacIver's lyrics, though, are more expressionistic than linear, and that vaguely poetic quality gives the music a sense of mystery. The songs are consistently strong from beginning to end, and it is not because the duo had more than a decade in the music business to work up to this first album. All the songs were written in the same two- to three-year period, the same amount of time that most bands spend between albums, and, despite the haphazard, take-it-as-it-comes studio time that characterized the recording of the album, the sound of Dark to Light is coherent and seamless. Synthesizer is ever-present on the album, as are characteristically stiff, hollow-sounding new wave drums. Still, the songs are the stock-in-trade of Phillet and MacIver, and they bring a varied set of influences into play. "Friday Night at the Bookclub" has Spanish elements, with flamenco-like guitar, while "The Radiant Blue Horizons" has doo wop rhythms over which a seamy '80s pop sax dominates. There is also a thematic coherence to the album. Many of the songs contain marine ("Half Told Lies," "Luna Sails") or spacy ("On a Stairway to the Stars") imagery that imparts an overall dreamy quality and gives the music a sense of distance and isolation, a feeling further enhanced by the gentle washes of synthesizers that provide a murky backdrop to the music. The album's standout track is "It's Just My Foolish Heart," and it would have been a fabulous single, with the duo's fractured imagery ("I'll forget the past/Get a new face") adding an edginess to their music. On "On a Stairway to the Stars" Phillet laments "S.O.S. says rescue me, come rescue me," and it leaves a sense that the duo wishes that their music were not floating in obscurity. On "The Wasted Traveller," he gets even closer to Magic Music's reality: "I am a wasted traveller, who has never arrived." Hopefully it is not too late now that Dark to Light finally has arrived, because it is a work that, however late in coming, deserves attention. The great lost new wave album? Maybe.


Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s

For sheer persistence and musical integrity, it would be difficult to outdo Canadian songwriters Frank Phillet and Neil MacIver, the duo that, for all intents and purposes, is Magic Music. Over the course of their nearly 30-year partnership, the two men have continued to follow a committed course of musical development with mostly no commercial or record label support or interest. Phillet and MacIver hooked up musically for the first time in 1970, gaining their first professional work that year,...
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Dark to Light, Magic Music
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