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Spotlight on: Magic Wand by Little Wings

Cover of Magic Wand by Little Wings Little Wings, Magic Wand

I must say that, after the past trilogies of Kyle Field's Little Wings incarnation -- the Wonder Trilogy consisting of Wonder City, Discover Worlds of Wonder, and Wonderue; and Light Green Leaves in its triumvirate of overlapping-but-different LP, CD, and cassette versions -- that the idea of him releasing a single album with one theme can't help but be ... well .. disappointing, at least on the surface. Luckily, the album isn't.

This is the next step in the artistic development of Little Wings. Mellow, smooth, and unabashedly self-referential (can we assume that indie stardom has gone to his head?), Magic Wand offers more of what we've come to expect from Kyle and friends, and manages to do it better than ever before.

Given that Field refers to songs on Light Green Leaves not once, but four times in three different tracks, it's probably not entirely coincidental that my favorite songs from that album are connected to my favorite songs from this one. The opening "Everybody" starting things off with a mention of "The Way I Deux." "Next Time" is referenced in "Uncle Kyle Says," as is "Look at What the Light Did Now," which also pops up in "So What?"

That last song is piano jazz reminiscent of Jason Anderson's "Pen Pals" (from New England), with a syncopated drum added for good measure. An ode to apathy, it contains lyrics like "Another girl says 'So what?' when her best friend comes home with a tan" and "I record a song and someone says 'So what? It sounds like shit'" but remains upbeat and positive through the music.

The opening of "Uncle Kyle Says" (my other favorite) will ring true with anyone who has ever tried to put reluctant children to bed. A sample lyric showcases its easygoing-yet-insistent nature:

When Uncle Kyle says it's time to go to bed
It's time to brush your teeth now, too
You better go to bed, you better brush your teeth
You better not ask for food.

When Uncle Kyle says it's time to hit the hay
Don't carry on the way you do
Tell the bedbugs no
Let the sweet dreams grow
In your head, like Uncle Kyle said.

Then there's that "Next Time" reference that, to me, capitalizes on the sense of fun that pervades the album:
So when Uncle Kyle says, "Hey, order in the court,"
Rap a gavel like the "Next Time" dude.
Elsewhere, "Whale Mountain" is particularly evocative, offering a striking portrait of its subject and the percussion on "Hanta Yo Three" (download) includes tongue-clicking, not entirely inappropriate for a song with a natural theme.

Predictable in its tendency to be unpredictable, Magic Wand offers two songs ("Sing Wide" and "Laugh Now") that would not sound at all out of place on Edie Brickell and New Bohemians' debut album Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars and the title track sounds like a combination of early Cowboy Junkies and Sea Change-era Beck. But after dancing around different styles throughout the album, Field saves the most stripped-down (in more than one way) song -- "Darkened Car" -- for last. Moody and not a little disturbing, it's also -- like Magic Wand itself -- one of Little Wings' maturest efforts yet.

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