In college, one’s conception of his or her peers is hopelessly temporal. I know very little about the lives they led in high school, or their talents, hopes and dreams. I don’t know if the girl in my English class was state champion swimmer or if she does a really mean Ross Perot impersonation and just wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Worse or at least more frustrating, attempting to divine their futures is an impossible task. We’ve heard that we can reasonably assume that some of us will change the world, some of us will become i-bankers and most of us will lead simple, average lives. But who? And how?
Every so often a Yalie pulls back a curtain on the singular kind of human potential that shakes up the way we see those around us, providing a glimpse of those talents that tend to remain hidden and futures that may unfold. This time, it’s Sam Lee ’12, who, along with childhood friend Alex Caplow, has released an album called “Real Life Color” under the moniker Magic Man. Written and recorded in various locations in France and mixed via e-mail, “Real Life Color” is a feat. Combining interesting pop songwriting with ostensibly “indie” instrumentation, Magic Man never sacrifices the human voice for gimmick.
“Real Life Color” is filled with songs that seem vaguely familiar yet never derivative. This is because Magic Man wears their influences well. The songs resonate like the ghosts of melodies that have been floating around in your head for years. They crib a little from predecessors like the Postal Service in terms of storytelling and glitchy programming, but with none of the saccharine tendencies that gave rise to cheap imitations like Owl City’s “Fireflies.” They take from contemporaries in the Glo-Fi and Chillwave movements, but with none of the self-seriousness, ’90s nostalgia and intentionally obfuscated and pointless lyrics that characterize those presently hip subgenres.
Most remarkable about this album is its incredible consistency. Each song makes me want to turn to the person I’m with and say, “This is so good.” Seasoned musicians would be proud a record this listenable. It’s an elegy in defense of the album, an antidote to our generation’s tendency to pick and choose only the catchiest singles from every release.
This might sound a tad overblown, but sometime during “South Dakota” I realized how lucky I am to be listening to this music. I thought about the choices in my life I made to wind up in this position; keyboards like marimbas and drum machines blasting through my tinny laptop speakers, believing every word that Sam Lee and Alex Caplow croon through their high-pitched harmonies. There are a million points in the past that I have inhabited and a million points in the future that I could inhabit and a million different presents that might have happened.
But I’m not in any of those places right now — I’m listening to Magic Man, by the grace of something beyond my control. The ubiquity and feigned inevitability of so much pop music make this sublime fortune feel new. What’s strange is that it didn’t use to be that way. Finding music, really good music, was an act of skill but mostly of chance before the advent of the Internet. Listening to Magic Man is reminiscent of those times. You have been let in on this little, beautiful secret just because you go to Yale.
“Real Life Color” is a tremendous album that showcases some of Lee’s remarkable skills. It’s accessible, even to those who don’t usually seek out electronica with a decidedly lo-fi bent. It reminds us how damned lucky we are to be surrounded by so many amazingly talented people and that every so often we get to share the fruits of that talent.