As the reluctant leader of The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson paradoxically helped rock ’n’ roll mature by applying sophisticated musical arrangements to naked teenage emotion. On their debut LP, Memphis, the obvious Wilson acolytes in Magic Kids take some carefully considered Wall Of Sound cues from Pet Sounds and Smile—a more refined take on what the band’s predecessor, The Barbaras, cheekily referred to as “budget Spectorisms.” But for all its sonic worldliness, Memphis is more on the level of early, good-time Beach Boys records like Surfin’ USA and Little Deuce Coupe.
Even so, Memphis’ release is perfectly timed with the end of summer—twee-pop for slow sunsets and awkward fumblings in the dark. The centerpieces “Summer” and “Hey Boy” make themselves comfortable in Wilson’s sandbox, while the wide-eyed, adolescent escapism of “Skateland” and “Hideout” get zapped by the Electric Light Orchestra mothership. And while Memphis’ youthful exuberance only occasionally tips over into cloying (see the hyperactive “Superball,” which confuses fiberglass insulation for cotton candy), most of the album is no more remarkable than the best reproductions of a Brill Building fetishist like B.C. Camplight. On the outwardly gazing album-closer “Cry With Me Baby,” the Kids finally find a thread that could last longer than a summertime romance. Giving into its Pet Sounds instincts and considering why the song’s protagonists hide away from the outside world, frontman Bennett Foster spies falling bombs and leveled cities. Perhaps Magic Kids just weren’t made for these times—but they might have a future in learning to deal with it.