Photo by Shervin Lainez
Cuddle Magic, a chamber-pop collective whose membership is split between Brooklyn and Philadelphia, is currently laying low through March as they’ve set themselves up in a temporary studio besides an unused swimming pool way way out in Long Island. The 6 of them are, more or less, living full time amongst their microphones and instruments and studio hardware. Here’s a photo of Cole, deep in concentration as he evaluates some lobster-pot percussion playback.
On their preceding album release Info Nympho, their third full length release to date, Cuddle Magic balanced folk timbres with surprising harmonies, pop song-craft with Steve Reich-inspired rhythmic complexity, and direct emotional lyrics with dense wordplay. These are lush, playful songs with wide-ranging instrumentation, including strings, percussion, vibraphone, trumpet, clarinet, keyboards, guitars, and many voices. Besides their group endeavors the members of Cuddle Magic have engaged in collaborations with a diverse range of artists, including Beyonce, guitarist and composer Fred Frith, legendary “third-stream” pianist Ran Blake, the David Wax Museum, Larkin Grimm, Mike & Ruthy (formerly of the Mammals), new music toy-piano virtuoso Phyllis Chen, and progressive string band Joy Kills Sorrow. Press response to the new record has been excellent:
The Philly/Brooklyn 10-piece constructs brainy chamber pop that’s surprisingly airy, using glockenspiels, ukulele, vibraphone, toy piano, flute, clarinet, and trumpet, along with the usual guitar/bass/drums, often arranged in staccato conversations behind unassuming male-female vocal interplay. The group formed at Boston’s New England Conservatory, and they’re prone to crafting songs built with mathematical concepts and graph paper that allude lyrically to Herman Melville, Vladimir Nabokov, Walter Benjamin, or James K. Polk, and compositionally to Steve Reich or Tortoise. Nympho Info is precocious and, yes, a bit precious, but it’s also fascinating.
– Steve Klinge/Philadelphia Inquirer 4/6
Imagine Tuli Kupferberg running onstage during a concert by Laurie Anderson or Philip Glass. A serene stream of sound that’s equivalent to the dips and rises on a heart monitor is playing. The most easily identifiable elements include a casio recorder, a snare drum, a clarinet, and light background vocals. At the mic., Kupferberg begins “Disgrace Note” with the statement, “I can’t write a song with Vic Chesnutt gone.”
– Mary Leary/Blurt-online.com 3/21
Incorporating both elements of indie and Americana, anyone who either wears a knit cap during daily life or insists their favorite bands do so should find great pleasure in the work of this East Coast-based (BK-Philadelphia) crew. Although, in all honesty most fans of indie should enjoy this mish-mash of plucking strings, riffs and violins as the end result is a beefy, well-powered and rich sound that feels a bit on the complicated side-but no so as to be hard to decipher. Often sweet, sometimes big-Cuddle Magic has a lot to give.
When Cuddle Magic first formed at New England Conservatory in Boston, the band’s goal was to perform and record music quietly and without amplification. This required the musicians to perform in close proximity to each other and to the audience, which led to the band’s name. Christopher McDonald (Rhodes electric piano, guitar, vocals, vibraphone, keyboards) and Ben Davis (bass, guitar, vocals, ukulele, banjo) began collaborating in 2005, recruiting Alec Spiegelman (clarinet, bass clarinet, vocals, guitar, harmonica, flute), Kristin Slipp (vocals, glockenspiel), and David Flaherty (drums, vibraphone, glockenspiel) to record their eponymous debut in 2007. Christopher and Dave then moved in with Ben in Jamaica Plain, MA where they developed their material further and added Cole Kamen-Green (trumpet, percussion) to the line-up. It was there in Jamaica Plain and at Wellspring Studios that they recorded and produced their second album, Picture, in 2009. Upon graduation, the band members left Boston with Christopher and Dave relocating to West Philadelphia and Ben, Alec, Kristin and Cole heading to Brooklyn.
Members of Cuddle Magic can also be seen performing with Railbird, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Baby States, Ronald Reagan, Bird Fly Yellow, Margaret Glaspy, The People’s Champs, Girls Guns and Glory, Lake Street Dive, Petal Shield, Split Red, Yapp!, The Superpowers Horns, and many, many others. The group tours the East Coast regularly and extensively.