Luke Temple can't help himself. It's in his blood, his soul, this natural inclination towards the immediate and the accessible, the embracing of evergreen pop sensibilities (and no, "pop" is never a dirty word). These qualities have shone through in spades on previous albums from the band he founded, fronts and forms the creative core of, New York-based trio Here We Go Magic.
Always experimental, always ambitious, the 2008-formed band has taken indie rock on fascinating tangents across two Secretly Canadian-released, critically acclaimed LPs to date, 2010's Pigeons and 2012's Nigel Godrich-produced A Different Ship, which followed a largely self-recorded eponymous debut of 2009. Be Small, the band's fourth full-length record, is equally instant to click with its audience — but the processes informing its production saw Temple take fresh approaches to his craft.
"I started the bulk of Be Small myself," Temple says. "The band of the past two records just kind of disbanded. People started going their own way, working on their own projects. Which put Here We Go Magic on hiatus for a while. But I made a solo record, Good Mood Fool, in 2013 (Temple's fourth in total), so I was in a home-recording frame of mind. So instead of waiting for a band to get together to do another 'live' Here We Go Magic album, I started recording it myself."
Here We Go Magic has never been a crystallised outfit. Members have come and gone, just as everybody sees friends fade in and out of their lives. Pigeons and A Different Ship bassist Jen Turner walked out at an airport, mid-tour, fried by the intensity of the band's situation. Drummer Peter Hale decided, between albums three and four, that working in the wine industry was preferable to the recording-and-touring lifestyle. Some acts might have called time on their activity there and then, but Temple's a dedicated soul. No way was Here We Go Magic disappearing into the ether.
Having moved away from his childhood home in Cape Anne, Massachusetts, Temple spent a spell of his youth sleeping rough in the woodlands around Seattle, so he knows all about hardships far greater than having to hustle together a new band. He soon ditched menial jobs in the Pacific North West for enrolment on a course at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, having always had a fascination with drawing and painting (he still sketches today, and his work can be seen in the cover art of A Different Ship).
He would progress from portraiture to producing fantastic murals, post-graduation, for New Yorkers' upscale apartments — and one strain of creativity begat another, as songs began to emerge. Songs that have carried him far enough, since his self-titled debut solo EP of 2005, to not down tools, to throw in a towel, because of personnel issues. So not long after his latest solo venture, the time came for further self-motivated and directed action; time to return to the essence of what has always made Here We Go Magic tick. He didn't have to look far, just find a mirror.
Temple tracked guitars and synths for Be Small directly, his aim to "have the whole record done direct, in the box, with no air in it". Sessions were exchanged between Temple and Here We Go Magic multi-instrumentalist Michael Bloch, before drummer Austin Vaughn, new to the group, laid down live drums atop the original digital kit beats. Temple's inspirations were manifold, and yet everything's been absorbed into his creative DNA in a very natural manner.
"There's a King Sunny Adé record from 1982 called Juju Music that's done direct into the board for the most part, and it has this close, in-your-ear sound to it," he says of these initial textural influences on Be Small. Of equal importance are Italian composer Roberto Cacciapaglia's Moroder-like The Ann Steel Album, of 1979, and the work of Brian Eno and Suicide. "But then I have a part of me that loves Duke Ellington, and The Beatles, and stuff that's more ordered and telling a little encapsulated drama. When you create a verse, and a chorus, and a bridge, it's like a little play." Which explains why Be Small, for all its progressions since A Different Ship — the motorik momentum of 'Tokyo London US Korea', the pastoral elegance of 'Girls In The Early Morning' — remains identifiable only as a Here We Go Magic LP.
"I don't think I'm tied to one kind of sound," says Temple. "I think it's nice to create specific little universes from record to record. I like to think in terms of balance, in creating little narratives. On this record, there's a tension between the very major, pop-sounding sounds, and this other, subversive aspect, that's pulling at the music from its other end. That's the tone that I wanted to create. I've always been interested in playing with that tension."
Be Small began as a more stripped-back Here We Go Magic project, Temple's early recordings bearing that direct, linear sound akin to the West African material he was listening to. There's evidence of this on 'Tokyo London US Korea' — "I'd originally intended on making a whole record of stuff like that," Temple says, before innately summoning his inner-Macca — but those fuller, as he calls them, "encapsulated dramas", comprise the bulk of Be Small's material. Temple's a storyteller, his songs the vehicles for observations and reflections of both local and global resonance.
The fuzzily psychedelic 'Candy Apple' is "a tongue-in-cheek song about New York... The city has changed a lot, and it doesn't have the specificity that it once did." 'Falling', a driving indie-pop charmer, "is about the idea of falling in love as being a decision that you make, love as an action rather than an over-sentimentalised feeling. The decision to work through your problems can feel dark, but that decision is also a sign of love." There's that tension at play, in just one track, the stereotypical perception of love skewed by the not-always-rosy realities of its maintenance.
The title-track sings of adopting a different world view to the one the media persistently feeds us: "Everything in our culture is about being bigger and better, stronger and faster, and cheating the natural chaos that's trying to pull us back down into the ground... But maybe we'd be less stressed out and less damaging to the planet if we went in the opposite direction, and thought about being small." And the closer, 'Dancing World', is "about how we only think in terms of our own narrative, the story of man, while the fact is that the planet will destroy us, and we're much smaller than we realise."
As heavyweight as some of the themes on Be Small appear on paper, though, the experience of them is one of brightness, of warmth and that welcoming full-album feeling that sits the listener down and doesn't let them leave until the final note's faded. Delicacy has always been an element in the Here We Go Magic oeuvre, that gentle touch of skin on string, a caress where other acts might deliver attention-seeking cacophony. Be Small is a compelling succession of strong words and affecting melodies, softly realised, a tonal continuation of what's come before — but an evolution, too. It's an album of action, of intent, not passive reaction to events beyond its maker's direct control. It's Temple in his element like never before, and all the sweeter for it. [LESS]