[Secretly Canadian; 2012]

I’ve had “F.F.A.P.” on repeat all week. The song — a standout from Here We Go Magic‘s Pigeons album — seethes quietly before it explodes into a volcanic, guitar-laden frenzy. It’s almost two-sided in its tack: while much of the song is ambient gospel, the conclusion is airy alt-rock with a euphoric undercurrent. In years’ past, such unrest typified the dynamic Brooklyn band; its genre-blending concoction has delved into rustic folk and golden age punk, among other sounds. On the surface, that might seem schizophrenic, yet none of it feels forced. So that’s made Here We Go Magic somewhat tough to dissect. At times, its incomprehensible lyrics and foggy drums resembled 1970s Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, bouncy percussion and incessant guitar riffs mimicked The Ramones, though not as visceral. Either way, it worked.

Formed in 2008 by folk singer Luke Temple, Here We Go Magic quickly grew into a full band with Kristina Lieberson on keys; Jennifer Turner on bass; Michael Bloch on guitar; and Peter Hale on drums. At the 2010 Glastonbury Festival, the band played to a mostly unresponsive crowd. Two patrons were feeling it, though: Nigel Godrich and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Soon after, Godrich began working with Magic on its new album. A Different Ship is the result of those sessions, in which the group strives for a tighter sound, forgoing Pigeons’ multidimensional aesthetic for a meditative approach. “It’s about coming to terms with the world physically,” Temple recently told Pop Matters. That remains to be seen. While Ship has a few compelling moments, it’s mostly lethargic and sinks into its own monotonous haze.

From the onset, it’s clear that A Different Ship will stretch the band’s pre-existing concepts. The intro and its transition are mechanical krautrock; the opening song, “Hard To Be Close,” is rooted in folk with a stuttering Afrobeat percussion. That reconfigured funk remains prevalent on “I Believe In Action.” This time, rolling guitars give the track an African feel, while electronic drums pin a disco influence. Then the album gets contemplative. Above billowing synths, “Over The Ocean” is the methodical rumination of a man at sea — the faint voices heard in the distance, and the picturesque depiction of endless waves. But on the title track, the band’s focus is unclear: the song dissipates after about four minutes, and is replaced by another three minutes of wafting bells and wind. The message is lost within the melody.

The charm of Here We Go Magic resides in its uncompromising expression. When the band was left to its own devices, the results were refreshing, even when it attempted a broad range of art. Here, it’s tough to tell where the band is headed. Perhaps Luke Temple — the group’s main songwriter — is at peace, which would explain the album’s philosophical tone. And maybe Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich played a big role in its sonic direction. “It’s very easy to work with him because you’re not second-guessing what he thinks,” bassist Jennifer Turner told Rolling Stone in an interview. “You play a part and he says, ‘that’s a bit trite, isn’t it?’ And you’re like, ‘yeah, I guess it is.’” Overall, A Different Ship sounds conflicted. Who’s running the vessel?