Morrow vs. Hajduch: The Mag Seven’s Black Feathers

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

The Mag Seven: Black Feathers

The Mag Seven: Black Feathers (End Sounds, 11/16/10)

The Mag Seven: “By the Time I Get Out of Phoenix”
[audio:|titles=The Mag Seven: “By the Time I Get Out of Phoenix”]

Morrow: Over the course of a dozen years and a half-dozen releases, The Mag Seven has traversed surf rock, Italian western, punk, rockabilly, guitar-centered jazz, and more.  Originally configured with True Widow and Slowride guitarist Dan Phillips, the group shifted its sound in the mid-2000s with the addition of guitarist Brandon Landelius, and the decision was fruitful.

Black Feathers is the group’s new seven-track vinyl/digital EP — its fourth album with Landelius and sixth overall.  It’s charged with the same surf-rock energy of albums past but scales back the jazz leanings and Angelo Badalamenti-style moodiness of its last release, Cotton Needle Sessions.  Though short, it’s a well-balanced release, alternating between the down-tempo swagger of “Jive Turkey,” the reverberated rock of “My War,” and the western dub of “By the Time I Get out of Phoenix.”

Hajduch: Surf reverb doesn’t go out of style.  Unfortunately, the surf guitar that employs it has never, ever changed.  This is a perfectly pretty album, executed flawlessly, in the service of material that is 50 years old.  It’s totally listenable; there’s absolutely nothing to dislike about it.  My only problem is that music where the hook is “this guy is good at guitar” isn’t much of a draw, unless you are Surfing…With the Alien.

Complaints about the format aside, these are some great songs.  “His Name is Jim” has the same chromatic claw-back that makes “Angel of Death” the most widely-enjoyed Slayer song.  You can’t sing along to it, but damn if it doesn’t stick in your head.  As Scott already mentioned, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is a highlight — it turns the tape delay on its head and uses it in service of a genre rarely heard alongside surf guitar (odd, considering the echoed-out, tremolo-picked similarities).  “My War” is a cover of the Black Flag classic (The Mag Seven formerly employed studio drummer Bill Stevenson, also of The Descendants / All and a legendary punk producer and drummer) that really drives home the tech tendencies of the original.  Even without the insane vocals, the power of the song carries through.

Morrow: I’m definitely a sucker for surf and western, and I don’t mind “this guy is good at guitar” albums, so The Mag Seven lands right in my wheelhouse.  I know what you’re saying about the older styles, but these guys combine them in a way that keeps it interesting.  Cotton Needle Sessions, with its expanded guitar technique and beautiful melodies, was way too overlooked.  If you’re not familiar, do yourself a favor and acquaint yourself.

Hajduch: So, in conclusion: good songs, great production, and my biggest complaint is “it’s more surf guitar.”  The album is varied (and short!) enough to keep one’s interest, and it’s available as a digital release online, so if you like instrumental surf rock that also has Black Flag covers and quick dub sketches, you’d probably like this.

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