Cuddle Magic record with toy pianist Phyllis Chen

By on December 17, 2011

At the end of this week, Cuddle Magic, a chamber-pop collective, heads to
Old Soul Studio, in Catskill, NY, where they’ll spend 4 days documenting
the music they’ve developed with toy pianist Phyllis Chen.

Then, March 6 2012, they release their third full-length album”Info
Nympho.” The new album was recorded at Trout Studios in Brooklyn,
engineered and mixed by Bryce Goggins (Swans, Akron/Family, Larkin Grimm)
and self-produced by the group.

On Info Nympho, Cuddle Magic balances 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.

The album begins with “Disgrace Note”, a song by Ben Davis and his
brother, poet and visual artist Tim Davis, written in response to the
death of Vic Chesnutt. With the aid of a pencil and yards of
taped-together graph paper, Davis divided 864, the number of beats in the
song, in different ways to create interlocking phrase cycles: 24 phrases
of 36 beats on one hand, and 3 phrases of 64 beats, 96 beats, and 128
beats on the other. This large canvas allowed Davis to visualize the shape
of the song’s form, a gradual reverse-build that reflects the song’s theme
of suicide. A propulsive drum break leads into “Baby Girl” by Alec
Spiegelman, written for Baby Duchess, a lovely pit bull rescued from
neglect and raised by a friend of the band. All of the parts in this song
are comprised of strict subsets of a single 21-note cycle, either stated
explicitly on guitar or imagined amidst the combination of horns, strings,
and vocals. The introduction, performed unaccompanied by guest musician
Phyllis Chen on toy piano, music box, and hand bells, is based on freer
transformations of the same cycle. Kristin Slipp’s “Hoarders”, which
revolves around an insistent half-step figure played on prepared piano,
concert bells, and vibraphone, was inspired by the way many people
obsessively hoard things – physical objects, thoughts, emotions, and

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 in —-, MA 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 headeding
to Brooklyn.

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. 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.


Author: DaveHHM

Dave Luttrull: Owner/Editor in Chief of Hellhound Music. Star Wars nerd, Gamer, Destiny homer, blogger, writer and lover of all things music.