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Piano Magic

Piano Magic is a loose collective of sorts, with an ever-changing lineup originally inspired by bands like This Mortal Coil and The 6ths. Core member Glen Johnson formed the band in 1996 with Dick Rance. Over the years his quiet bedroom project has expanded and changed as Johnson enlisted the help of friends, acquaintances, and moonlighters from other bands. It's oddly appropriate that Piano Magic has a revolving membership, because its music has a graceful fluidity and malleability that defies rigid structure. Over the course of numerous albums and singles, Piano Magic's music has evolved from lo-fi instrumental noodling to pop-electronica trickery, and then again into a lush vocal and orchestral pastiche.

On their 2000 Rocket Girl release, Artists' Rifles, Piano Magic combines a traditional indie rock pop song sensibility with baroque harpsichord flourishes and ethereal female vocals. The result is somewhere between the shimmering, Factory-flavored post-rock of Disco Inferno (Johnson cites them as a major influence), the foreboding sparkle and chug of Slint, and an ornate cathedral. The album opens with a very military-sounding drum roll that slowly recedes, giving way to the thick, dirgey bass and dark gothic sheen of "No Closure," featured here, and then on to eight more songs that are a delicate balance between restrained power and glittering elegance. For Artists' Rifles, John Cheves, Miguel Martin, Paul Tornbohm, Adrienne Quartly, and Caroline Potter join Johnson to round out Piano Magic's lineup.

Also in 2000, Piano Magic contributed "The Canadian Brought Us Snow," to the Spanish label Autoreverse's melancholy Songs for Blue Times compilation. The track displays the same shadowy, gothic sensibilities as Artists' Rifles, with hushed, enigmatic vocals, creepy almost surf-inspired delay-heavy guitars, vaguely martial percussion, and simple but quietly dramatic effects.

After Artists' Rifles, Piano Magic left Rocket Girl in favor of 4AD, where they recorded their 2001 album, Son de Mar. Earlier in 2001, Piano Magic put out a three-song CDEP on Spain's Acuarela Records, an elegantly creepy wash of minimal atmospherics and deeply personal lyricism, entitled I Came to Your Party Dressed As a Shadow. The recording was the first to feature new full-time Piano Magicians Alasdair Steer and Jerome Tcherneyan.