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VOL. 125 | NO. 164 | Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Magic Kids Launch Album With Memphis Youth Symphony Fundraiser

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

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The Magic Kids
Photo: Alejandra Sabillon

When Alice Buchanan plays her violin with the Memphis Youth Symphony tonight at the Levitt Shell, it won’t be a nostalgic reunion.

The 2005 White Station High School graduate and former Youth Symphony violinist will be resoundingly looking forward.

The Youth Symphony is partnering with The Magic Kids, a Memphis pop outfit that has blown up on the blogosphere and is releasing a new album, “Memphis,” on Matador Records. The new album debuts Tuesday.

“This was just a big dream,” said Buchanan. “I never really thought it would happen. It feels so full circle.”

The Magic Kids coagulated among the fertile Goner Records music scene. Former members of The Barbaras started to get some serious notions about music and a creative alliance resulted in the track “Hey Boy,” which won the band critical acclaim.

“It was the only song we had,” said Bennet Foster. “We only had a few pictures, but people kept talking and blogging about it. It kind of just got out of control.”

Foster, 25, grew up in Memphis and attended Central High School. His father instilled him with a love for music.

“He bought whatever instrument was for sale at a garage sale,” Foster said.

“Hey Boy” got the attention of a booking agent. The group eventually signed with True Panther Sounds, an imprint of Matador Records. Matador is a large independent label associated with late Memphis rocker Jay Reatard.

The relationship with the label, admittedly in its honeymoon phase, has been very positive for both partners.

“We had really big ideas,” said Foster. “Without the relationship with True Panther it would have taken months. But this gave us deadlines and a budget. And I don’t think we would have gotten the sounds that are on that record.”

The sounds are certainly polished. Some have alleged it sounds un-Memphian. The project was produced by Shane Stonebeck, famous for his work with Vampire Weekend. “Memphis” sounds similar to Vampire Weekend in the currently fashionable mode of intensely musical arrangements presented in a testosterone-averse style.

This ain’t “Black Moses.” But it is very sharp music that demonstrates a fierce musical ambition.

“They had a certain sophistication and well-crafted songwriting,” said Dean Bein, head of True Panther Sounds. “That’s all self-taught. They are self-motivated and ambitious. They just have this joy for creating music.”

Bein said working for an independent label allows him more time to get to know the principals behind a project.

“There was really a family vibe. It’s like a small business with its community of support,” said Bein.

Breaking a band has become increasingly difficult amid the industry’s failure to manage digital distribution.

“With illegal downloading you see a polarization. It’s much harder to stay in the middle. You are either everywhere or you are really a niche,” said Bein.

The Magic Kids are everywhere.

“The main thing about a label is the publicity. You will get the press,” said Foster.

The label responded to the band’s initial success with “Hey Boy” by allowing them to realize a more complicated musical dream.

The addition of Buchanan and Katherine Dohan, another former Youth Symphony player on cello, gave the band an expansive set of possibilities, which they manage well. The band is probably tired of being compared to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, but that comes with the territory of writing great parts and producing them well.

The mash-up of punk, pop and classical came easy in the band’s familial environment, and their practices can be found on YouTube.

“I was very ‘music school’ about things at first,” said Buchanan. “But as time went on, I got to where I remembered the parts. We learn from each other.”

Admission to the concert is $5, all of which goes directly to the Memphis Youth Symphony Program. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

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