To celebrate the release of Magdalena Bay long awaited debut album Mercurial World, let’s dive into their already incredible catalogue. Here are the 10 best tracks (so far) of the duo who makes nerds, indie snobs, and pop suckers party together.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that even a 15-year age difference will result—especially in these modern times—in a completely different upbringing between generations. Case in point: this writer didn’t have regular or reasonable access to the Internet and its infinite World Wide Web until college, whereas the kids who are now in their mid-twenties never really knew a world without it. That has to have an effect on you—from its influence on the development of one’s aesthetic affinities to the evolution of how media is consumed, and beyond. And if there was ever a musical group that the existence of the Web was absolutely meant for, it’s the Los Angeles-based duo and HighClouds darlings, Magdalena Bay, who have wielded the Internet like a Roland Juno synth to reinvent the landscape of pop music.
Over the past few years, vocalist Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin have churned out jam after sticky sweet jam, often released as standalone singles while other times collected into EPs. Even these EPs range from something more or less resembling an album, as with last year’s A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling, to the spring cleaning of their two Mini Mix volumes of underdeveloped but no less awesome minute-and-a-half length songs. But for MagBay, the songs themselves are only part of the full experience; pop music is just as much about the overall image of the group, their public personas, the visuals used to enhance the music (and vice versa), and the marketing techniques used to attract and solidify a fanbase. Just google “Magdalena Bay” and, no matter what you click on, you’ll soon be transported to their eccentric brand of cyberspace—whether it’s one of their wacky trademark music videos, various communiques with the Twitch gaming community, a Y2K-obsessed and nearly cult-like website, or even Music Industry 101 tutorials via TikTok (check like this or this) that somehow strike an impressive balance between tongue-in-cheek and sincere.
Although Magdalena Bay has signed to Gorilla vs. Bear-affiliated label, the wonderful Luminelle Recordings, the duo remains firmly grounded in a DIY sensibility. Most of their music videos are self-directed and shot in their apartment against a green screen, allowing Tenenbaum and Lewin the ability to composite themselves into any background they desire—manufactured worlds crammed full of Word clip art, VHS camcorder footage, Windows 95 graphics, GIFs, memes, and obsolete Video Toaster editorial transitions. It’s all very low-budget and homemade, but rather than coming across as amateurish, the visuals instead create a kind of self-aware, droll-but-dystopian anxiety over just how much technology (or more specifically, the Internet) has affected and infected our everyday lives. And if none of this sounds conceptually mainstream enough for a successful pop act, just revel in the endless synth hooks, ear-candy production techniques, and irresistable vocal melodies that imbue their tracks with a euphoria typically reserved for names like Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, and Robyn. Bump a bass-heavy Magdalena Bay tune next time you’re out driving, and the fact that they’re not playing to gigantic crowds in huge venues will seem criminal.
This is especially evident on their newly released and truly superb debut album, Mercurial World. Having honed their songwriting chops, production know-how, and visual aesthetic on early singles and EPs, Magdalena Bay‘s sound has now evolved into something uniquely their own, proving that they continue to get better with age. Everything we’ve loved about the group and their music is still intact, but on Mercurial World, it all feels more focused and cohesive, even as they branch out to experiment with instrumentation, arrangements, and styles that stray from their earlier templates.
Now that the album has been out for a couple weeks and we’ve had the chance to digest it, we here at HighClouds wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate Tenenbaum, Lewin, and their MagBay project by publishing our list of the Top 10 Best Magdalena Bay songs thus far. Many other iterations of this list could have won out, but that’s part of what makes their catalogue so special—not only are there tracks missing here that surely deserve to be included (justice for “Neon,” “Money Lover” and “You Lose!”), but their consistently prolific and solid output showcases the broad stylistic range they successfully traverse without ever losing a handle on the core elements that make Magdalena Bay… Magdalena Bay. And considering that fully half of the list consists of tracks from Mercurial World alone, it’s safe to assume that we kinda like it. Or to put it another way: it slaps. So join us for a jaunt through the MagBay cyberverse and share your own top 10 with us. Jeremy
10 – “Good Intentions” (from A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling)
I used to kick ass at Dance Dance Revolution – “Whip It,” “Where’s Your Head At,” “Butterfly,” they were my jams. I bring this up because “Good Intentions” brought me back to 2005 in my living room, jumping up and down on a styrofoam pad. There’s something about the crystalline production, the infectious chorus, the saccharine instrumental, that innovates as a modern marvel while bringing me back to an era I miss, when your body was free of worry, thriving on serotonin from movement to the music. Zach
9 – “Live 4ever” (from Mini Mix, Vol. 2)
Even for a band as self-aware and meticulous with their aesthetic as MagBay, “Live 4ever” feels particularly like a checkmate. Enthralling with its nonstop pulse and mood shifts – from emo-tinged R&B guitars adorning the background to rattling the room with that brittle hyperpop echo – you want the song to live forever, twisting and turning while you’re carried away by the enchanting melody. But alas, “Live 4ever” comes in at a whopping 2:33 – perhaps a bit cheeky, but certainly delivered with a wink. Zach
8 – “Only If You Want It” (stand-alone single)
A one-off single from a very different, pre-pandemic 2019, “Only If You Want It” could be easily and rationally misidentified as a new, shimmering Carly Rae Jepsen bop. Following a few initial bars of dark synth pads, Tenenbaum interrupts with a reverb-drenched “Aww hey!” before shifting direction and leaning into major chords, electronic handclaps, and bleeps and bloops. Vocally, she smartly opens with the insanely catchy chorus—you’re hooked before the song’s barely begun! It’s perfect pop, nonstop fun, and how this release didn’t turn MagBay into instant megastars still boggles the mind. Well, lyrically it’s about sexual cannibalism, so maybe that’s it? Jeremy
7 – “The Beginning” (from Mercurial World)
If the listener had any doubts by the last cut off of Mercurial World, The Beginning makes the album’s escapist intentions clear all while squeezing in one last synthpop banger. As a standalone song it boasts groovy keys, bass & pristine, layered production much like the rest of the record’s offerings, but its uplifting lyrics and enticing transition into “The End” have certainly convinced me on more than one occasion to give the whole thing another spin. Jeremy
6 – “Venice” (from A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling)
Arguably their most underrated single, “Venice” came out in August 2019 to make our summers brighter, shinier, and better. There is a tropical, beachy side to this song about the climate emergency that we wouldn’t mind Magdalena Bay revisiting at all. Alberto
5 – “Dreamcatching” (from Mercurial World)
The fact that this wasn’t the album’s lead single (or a single at all!) says it all about Magdalena Bay‘s ridiculously strong output throughout their “short life” as a band. It’s playful, it’s bouncy, and it’s got an edge to it. There’s a reason why Magdalena Bay drew SOPHIE comparisons at one point. Alberto
4 – “Hysterical Us” (from Mercurial World)
“Hysterical Us”‘s disco foundation and keys that propel you to the dance floor lend themselves excellently to Magdalena Bay‘s lyrical and production choices on Mercurial World. The hook is so upbeat and groovy that you forget that our protagonist is confessing her involvement in a relationship so problematic she’s “checking the locks again.” Oh well, I’m too busy dancing. Hopefully it turns out OK. Jimmy
3 – “Killshot” (from A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling)
“Killshot”, Mag Bay‘s biggest hit so far, speaks very much for itself. A serious step up from their past releases, the smooth and layered production is very much an indicator of what would be to come on their debut record. Not to be outdone by producer Matt Lewin, vocalist Mica Tenenbaum riffs on the harmfully-obsessive-love trope quite well, weaving in consistently delectable wordplay so seductive it may spur your own ill-conceived romantic fling. Jimmy
2 – “Chaeri” (from Mercurial World)
The announcement of Mercurial World was accompanied by the release of one of their best – and darkest – singles. Did you ever wonder what would have happened had Chromatics been fronted by Grimes? Well, Magdalena Bay did, and they took that scenario all the way to the dancefloor. Alberto
1 – “Secrets (Your Fire)” (from Mercurial World)
The only track to receive perfect 10s from all the HighClouds panelists, “Secrets (Your Fire)” is basically the Nadia Comaneci of pop music, as well as a 4-minute masterclass in everything a great pop track can do. The songwriting is unexpected yet familiar, the arrangement dense yet intentional. And production-wise, it’s a revelation. There are so many instruments and effects, so many disparate sounds fighting for their own space and attention, on paper it should sound a mess. And yet everything is so meticulously placed, timed, and mixed that the end result couldn’t work more perfectly—from the funk bass to the dynamic string tremeloes, from the saxophone solo to the orchestra hits to the dial-up modem squelches, there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. Equally impressive is the stylistic amalgam created here, taking as much inspiration from 80s synth-pop and 90s techno as it does from 00s r&b and even g-funk rap. It’s all over the place in the best way, the sonic equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and realizing that what’s left sticking there just happens to be a pop masterpiece. Jeremy