[Review] Magical Beasts – When Love’s A Stranger/Peninsula

Boasting a slew of tunes for your listening pleasure, Chicago’s own Magical Beasts are the new harbingers of gentle folk music with a current of E-Street anger boiling underneath. With their EP, When Loves A Stranger, the group presents the perfect pairing with spring awakening, as it were (as well as the group’s complimentary release of their record, Peninsula) an interpretation of a rebirth of the genre is thoroughly mulled over rather than the typical lackadaisical survey of folk we so often see.

When Loves A Stranger takes a page out of Loudon Wainwright III’s book, though a more sincere offering with equally cautionary vocals from Nathan Paulus. Laid out in the middle “Lady Bird” feels more sentimental and Midwestern than the speculatory music from, say, West Coast modern folkies. It’s tough to say why, exactly, imagery about cornfields and aviary spectacles is more genuine than songs about dating in the age of vintage emojis. In fact, the very idea of modern romance seems distant for Magical Beasts – not foreign, just far removed from the traditionalist stance that the banjo and fiddle sing throughout “Someone To Life The Blue.”

The group’s album proper, Peninsula, also sees Magical Beast’s fascination with the rustic side of life, albeit a life more defined by the deconstruction of the “folkie-cum-reconstruction era inhabitant” cultural mythos. Throughout Peninsula, conviction outweighs loyalty to sound, taking the record into more abstract territory rather than the terse formality of 11-track records many of their contemporaries offer. The incisive “Glory Be” may initially sound off like a typical folk standard hinting at deism, but it’s likely more a statement on identity crisis within Christianity.

Such is the case examining cultural, geographical and societal identification is paramount to the themes contained with both records from Magical Beasts. Even if this examination it is lying beneath the guise of second-hand store sundresses flocking to music with mandolin and horns, its presence is undeniable. Magical beasts are substance over form, and what a pleasant outcome they have arrived at.

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