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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Belt

ALBUM REVIEW: Strange Magic - Slightest of Hands

Fun and varied compilation of Javier Romero’s best from a prolific 2023

Channelling at various points the heavy riffs of Queens of the Stone Age, the slacker rock stylings of Weezer, the tenderness of Elliott Smith and pop-punk output of fellow Mama Mañana Records alumnus, Lowmello, Slightest of Hands is a great entry point into the musical world of Javier Romero, AKA Strange Magic.

The Albuquerque native set himself the lofty goal of recording and mixing one track per week last year, which saw him release four albums. Taking stock of this achievement and with backing from Mama Mañana Records, Romero and Kiley Larsen - founder of the Santa Fe-based record label (and 5-9 Album of the Month podcaster) - have curated a 22-track ‘best of’ Strange Magic’s prolific 2023 output titled Slightest of Hands.

Diving into a 22-track album would normally be a daunting proposition but, with a large chunk of tracks falling under or just over the minute mark, Slightest of Hands demands just shy of an hour of your time. And, while the output has higher and lower points, but never bad, what you end up with is an incredibly varied collection of songs which work as a classic compilation and will no doubt uncover different favourites for each listener.

For me, the two highest points are ‘Jackpot Junior Crackpot’ and ‘Everything Was Key Lime Pie and Nothing Ever Hurt’ - the former a minute-long, breezy pop-punk song with Romero singing: “this is the chance of a lifetime, don’t blow it” and the latter an emotional introspective acoustic guitar-led track about missing a former lover with layered vocals reminiscent of Elliott Smith.

A prolific songwriter: Javier Romero, aka Strange Magic (photo credit: Javier Romero)

These two tracks feature in the strongest run of songs, which begins with ‘Rabbit Foot Keychain’ and ends five songs later with the aforementioned ‘Everything Was Key Lime Pie and Nothing Ever Hurt’. ‘Rabbit Foot Keychain’ is a scuzzy garage rock track, ‘Radioactive No-Step’ features excellent guitar work and dissonant vocals and ‘D.A.R.E.’ is a lovely love song with Romero letting his acoustic guitar take centre stage.

Elsewhere, other highlights include opener, ‘A Walking Talking Coke Commercial’, which is a fun sonic blast for Romero to note his penchant for drinking coke, the hopeful, shoegaze-y ‘Hold on to the Dream, Dreamer’, sweet power-pop of single, ‘Star Power’, the anthemic ‘One Day I Know I’ll Be Alright’ and the touching psych-laden ‘Best Friends Forever’.

Across the 22 tracks, lyrics can be banal and often humorous one moment, then on other tracks, the heart-wrenching honesty can floor you. When Romero allows his vocals to take centre stage, they are strong, though too often he hides them behind the scuzziness of the track or even distorts them deliberately.

While some tracks don’t hit the heights of others, this compilation is not dull and takes you down a variety of emotions and genres. Slightest of Hands succeeds in showcasing the musical talents of Romero and puts Strange Magic firmly on the radar, readying listeners to keep an eye out for the next project.

Rating: 7.7/10

Slightest of Hands is out today (3 May) via Mama Mañana Records


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