Out of all the records to come out this year, nothing has surprised me quite like Magdalena Bay’s debut studio album, Mercurial World
Dropping the same day as James Blake’s highly anticipated Friends That Break Your Heart and BADBADNOTGOOD’s exciting psychedelic jazz fusion album Talk Memory, I wasn’t in a rush to listen to the new project from the Los Angeles synth-pop duo, though I thought the singles from Mercurial Bay were decent. Nevertheless, I put it on in the background while grinding out my homework one day and 30 minutes later, I was completely engrossed in the tone and mood that Magdalena Bay created. By the time it was done, a couple thoughts crossed my mind, but the main one was “okay, let’s run that back from the top.”
I listened to the album three times that night. And then another three times the next day. Then more. And more. Mercurial World is undoubtedly one of my most listened-to albums this year and it only just came out. And who could blame me? Mercurial World is the best fusion of retro and modern aesthetics I’ve heard since Kero Kero Bonito’s sugary debut Bonito Generation. It blends elements from 80s synth pop hits, video game chiptune, Y2K electro-R&B and the modern art-pop of Grimes and Charli XCX, just to name a few. The duo is clearly playing with a lot of influences, but Magdalena Bay never makes the mistake of lending their identity to what they are building off of, which is something that newer groups often struggle with. Instead of relying on previous innovations in synth-pop, Magdalena Bay develops a distinct personality with enthralling lyrical mysticism and breathy, reverb-soaked vocals from lead vocalist Mica. The album also distracts from its frequent switching between genres with incredibly smooth transitions between each song. The way Magdalena Bay fluently dances between genres accentuates their understanding of pop’s history and amplifies the fairy tale psychedelia that envelops Magdalena Bay’s aesthetic.
If I had to describe Magdalena Bay’s promotional process for this album in just a couple words, I would go with “concerningly cultish.” Seriously. Part of this album rollout included sending physical pamphlets to people’s doors that directed them to an acid trip labyrinth of a website with old Y2K graphics, gifs and unsettling messages like: “Tired of all that thinking? We’re ready to do it for you!” I spent an entire afternoon exploring the nooks and crannies of this website, and despite how tongue-in-cheek it is, I couldn’t help but get absorbed in the absurdist, pseudo-science cult fiction the duo crafted. I felt like I was inside a creepy-pasta or an episode of Black Mirror. I could write an entire separate article about this website alone, it is genuinely one of the most interesting album promotion efforts I’ve seen in a while. And it’s not just the website that brings up cult imagery. There are cult intentions everywhere in the lyrics: the Alice in Wonderland allusions on “Follow The Leader,” the existential paranoia on “Hysterical Us,” the romantic escapism of “You Lose!” and the slight, chilling commentary on internet privacy on “Secrets (Your Fire).” When you get into the details of the lyrics, they often don’t have a clear meaning. If you’re looking for strong and meaningful poeticism, I would not turn to Magdalena Bay. However, if you want to hear an infectious dance-pop song about how it’s kinda weird that we all know how to breathe even though no one taught us, you’ve come to the right place.
I’m legitimately stunned by how good this album is. It’s an incredibly crafted collection of synth pop bops. Each song is different in its own way, but they all come together to form an incredibly coherent mood. The quality of the ideas on this record is surprising, especially as the group’s debut album. I’m beyond impressed with Magdalena Bay. I highly recommend this album if you like synth-pop, vaporwave, j-pop, city-pop, dance or if you just want something new to listen to. At least check out their TikTok page. They have fun over there.
Jess Williams is a first-year exploratory major who is a ready and willing participant in the cult of Magdalena Bay. They can be reached at [email protected].