Magical Beasts will drop an EP called When Love’s a Stranger and an album entitled Peninsula on May 1. The songs on the EP are about love, lovers, and disillusioned love. Peninsula is a concept album about hollow individuals who yearn to evolve but are stymied by their own predilections.
Led by Nathan Paulus, the Chicago-based musical project is first and foremost a recording band, only performing live shows sporadically. Their sound embodies Americana and folk.
The band is made up of core members as well as professional and touring musicians from Chicago. The lineup includes Nathan Paulus on vocals, guitar, harmonica, and arrangements; Josh Miller on vocals and upright bass; John Herbst on vocals, banjo, and ukulele; Ethan Pikas on pedal steel and banjo; Cara Sawyer on vocals and French horn; Rhonda Harrison Tag on drums; Justin Amolsch on French horn, trombone, and trumpet; Max Crawford on trumpet; and Jim Becker on violin.
When Love’s a Stranger contains five tracks and opens with “New York,” a measured folk number drifting along on an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and drawling pedal steel. The song is dark and melancholic.
The title track features a nice banjo and the oozing whine of the pedal steel, followed by “Lady Bird,” “Someone to Lift the Blue,” and “Erin and the Storm,” all of which emanate thick folk flavors bordering on deep, all-is-lost country aromas.
Peninsula comprises seven tracks, most of which are fairly drab and unremarkable. The best track is “Glory Be,” a bright, upbeat folk tune with flowing layers of brass and luminous vocal harmonies.
The musicianship on both the EP and the album are excellent, but the vocals approach the elegiac, infusing the music with a gloomy despondency, like Neil Young gone off his meds, morose and depressed. The misery factor is contagious, leading the listener down into the abyss of calamitous unhappiness.