“Tommy [Garcia] and I are in love with old surf records,” Mrs. Magician frontman Jacob Turnbloom says of the throwback sound woven into the band’s upcoming sophomore album, B-Sides. “So, yes, it seeps into our songs. We enjoy fun and bright-sounding music, but with lyrics that aren’t talking about catching a wave.”
San Diego band Mrs. Magician — which is made up of Turnbloom, guitarist Garcia and drummer Cory Stier — may be part of the recent wave of bands injecting a sunny ’60s sound into their music, but unlike their compatriots, the guys always opt to add a twist to their Tequila Sunrise. No, Mrs. Magician doesn’t make straight-up surf rock — with jams replete with humor, darkness and subverted expectations, they’re more focused on what’s going on under the waves.
B-Sides is the followup to the band’s 2012 debut, Strange Heaven, and contains, appropriately, songs recorded during the creation of that album. “We were left with all these old songs we didn’t necessarily want to throw away forever, but at the same time we didn’t really want to play them live,” Turnbloom says of the 17 tracks that make up B-Sides.
Despite the album’s assignation, however, the songs are no less caustically catchy than their predecessors on Strange Heaven. Turnbloom and Co. showed a particular talent on that record for looking to the rose-tinged past with their sound while, lyrically, carving out their hearts and slapping them on the table, only to laugh at the hole left behind. The band’s tunes are, in essence, the musical equivalent to that scene in “Reservoir Dogs” that’s scored by “Stuck In The Middle With You.” You know the one. We all do.
This feeling is probably most apparent on B-Sides in songs like “Sleep Running,” which starts off sweet and simple — very “Mr. Sandman” — until the lyrics set in: “Tell me who’s the guy in your dreams who stole my heart away from me.” Things only get more fractured when Turnbloom sings — with regard to a flower he gave his unrequited love — “I know you’ll smell it someday and realize I’m everywhere you are” as the melody starts to crack like a broken music box.
Despite the disconnect in melody and content, however, one thing does remain consistent: Whether it’s in two-faced songs like “Sleep Running” or more moodily morose tracks like fuzzed-out album-opener “Despicable Things,” Turnbloom — or his musical protagonist, rather — never does get the girl.
“I definitely feel inspired to write when I’m upset or hurt,” Turnbloom says. “But I think the songs lean that way because those are the kinds of recordings I’ve enjoyed listening to my whole life.” He cites The Nerves’ “When You Find Out” as an example. “You know the girl he’s talking about isn’t gonna regret leaving him, but his lyrics are so confident and cutting,” Turnbloom says. “My approach to writing songs about love has to be a bit more self-deprecating; it’s more interesting to hear someone who doesn’t have all the answers singing honestly and open. It also adds some humor as well.”
That self-deprecating humor crops up throughout the record — in “Guys In Cooler Bands,” a caustic musing on a starfucker lover; in “Tabloids,” which is narrated by a disgruntled celeb with a chiseled jaw and tons of cash; and, strikingly, in “Always a Bridesmaid,” an ominous, jagged take on matrimony that stands out as the most jarring, least surf rock jam on the album.
This humor, however, along with the band’s current trend of fucking with our expectations sonically, is most apparent in songs dealing with the music world in general. In Strange Heaven, there was “Actual Pain,” in which Turnbloom croons, “I distinctly recall professing my hatred for bands,” and on B-Sides, there’s the aforementioned “Guys In Cooler Bands.” When asked why this disdain for the music scene keeps cropping up in Mrs. Magician song, Turnbloom says simply: “Have you ever met a band? They suck.”
Mrs. Magician doesn’t leave themselves out of that sweeping statement, either, which becomes evident in the simple sing-song tune, “I Hate Tour.” The song’s narrator alternates between bitching about the discomforts of tour — to an almost comic degree — and the concept of returning to the real world, where his parents want him to join the army. In the end, after traveling around the country, playing to empty venues, and getting all of his cigarettes torn in half, the narrator finally amends: “No place feels like home/You’ll wander through this life alone/So I’ll learn to love the road/But if I hate it nobody has to know.”
Unless, of course, they take the time to listen to the b-sides.
B-Sides is out September 3 on Thrill Me Records. Stream it below: