Audio Mixer: Ben Moore.
Recording information: Audio Design, City of Refuge & Electricalifornia.
San Diego surf-punks Mrs. Magician already showed a flair for unexpected contrasts on 2012's Strange Heaven, which paired bitter lyrics with sweet hooks and harmonies on songs like "There Is No God." Their nervy attitude is sharper than ever on Bermuda, a collection of paranoid power pop that's equally beachy and angst-ridden. The band reunited with producer and Swami Records head John Reis, who helps give Mrs. Magician a glossy, hard-edged sound that brings their misanthropic songs into clearer focus. Though the reverb that gave Strange Heaven an extra dose of surreality is missed, what Bermuda lacks in atmosphere, it makes up in presence: If Mrs. Magician used to have a distinctive sound, now they have distinctive songs. Not coincidentally, some of the album's most immediate moments are also some of the most pissed-off. "Life sucks/Tough shit," Jacob Turnbloom sneers before a wave of "ba ba ba" backing vocals lift him to "Tear Drops"' soaring choruses, while the combination of irresistible keyboards and harmonies with Turnbloom's repetition of "Just burn in hell" makes "Don't Tell Me What to Do" feel like the sequel to "There Is No God." Best of all is "Reborn Boys," where the deceptively joyous refrain "I don't ever feel anything anymore" sounds like it's been numbed by sunshine. On Bermuda, Mrs. Magician explore being lost -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- on tightly crafted songs that are also among their most musically varied. Along with souped-up versions of Strange Heaven's moody surf-pop ("Phantoms," "Forgiveness"), their punk roots emerge on the jabbing gentrification rant "No Action" and "Eyes All Over Town," which plays like an update on garage rock's decades-long obsession with cheating girls. Elsewhere, they slow things down with "Jessica Slaughter"'s grinding recriminations, and save some of their debut's dreaminess for the swooning choruses of "Where's Shelly" and "Party's Over (Limbo)," a fitting finale for an album whose title alludes to danger and mystery as well as a tropical paradise. Even more so than Strange Heaven, Bermuda reveals Mrs. Magician as expert craftsmen of sunny pop with a wicked dark side. ~ Heather Phares