20 December 2019 (released)
09 January 2020
Most albums, whether intentional or not, have a season in which they fit best. Summer albums are unmistakable; bright, boisterous and blindly optimistic. Certain records have a spring or fall feel but the next most noticeable is the dichotomy of a winter record; solemn, wistful and revealing to harsher realities. The brisk weather forces us to take stock, to act from a spirit of practicality and conservation, and often to let certain hopes and connections die to give us fertile ground to replant come spring. Taken in the right context, these too can be joyous albums, demonstrating the refreshing realness of shedding false pretenses and being brutally honest.
Chicago Americana collective, Magical Beasts have consciously leaned into this notion with their latest release Yes, My Love, I Am Reaching. A six-song EP whose bucolic, languishing ballads capture the vibe of a freshly snow-covered ranch, the hush of a sound-dampened field. Led by frontman Nathan Paulus and permanent members John Herbst and Josh Miller, the gang recruits a talented tribe of tasteful musicians to fill out their laid-back mid-west folk sound.
Although there are full swells at times and an uptempo number near the end, the tone of the record is decidedly low-key, a tone set by the opener 'Come Find Me'. Delicately finger-picked guitar and a sparse, dampened rhythm section lay down a bed for Paulus and guest singer Katie Stimpson to duet. Ethan Pikas joins on pedal steel to turn it into a singing trio. The track is an invitation from a warm hearth on a blustery cold night.
The spiritual incantation 'In Praise' reflects on the divine nature of love, rising to a glorifying crescendo with the singers and musicians hitting a level not reached anywhere else on the album. 'Little Buds' is a nod to the bluegrass heritage which makes up one branch of the Magical Beasts' sound. Ho-down bass, shuffling drums, fiddle and the classic 'gathered 'round one mic' vocal harmonies. The final track 'Farthest Shore' serves as the record's highest accomplishment. The long and winding ode to yearning takes its time, unfolding gradually over 8 minutes with the strums getting more heavy and earnest as the subject of the longing drifts off into the distance.
Yes, My Love, I Am Reaching is a fragile portrait of love. The considered playing of this crack team of folk musicians allows the album to have all these niches of subtlety. Released at the perfect time for its mood, the album is made for shut in season. Get a warm beverage, relax and take stock.