LA artist Jack Name is somewhat of an underground enigma. Previously recording under a variety of names, including “John Webster Johns” and “Muzz,” Jack’s work has been varied and eccentric. Once featured by the Museum of Contemporary Art and previously working with Ariel Pink, Jack is mainly known as a singer/songwriter. Most recently, he has released Magic Touch, the third album in what he calls a trilogy.
When listening to Magic Touch, Jack’s assertion that the album is part three of a trilogy makes it important to consider his previous records. 2014’s Light Show and 2015’s Weird Moons were similar in their sonic landscapes, with Jack’s vocals often blurred by noisy instrumentation and complex, verging-on-messy construction. In contrast, Magic Touch is much more organic and minimal. Jack’s vocals are right at the top of the mix, while notably 60s-influenced instrumentals enjoy a more organic and metallic style. The folky results are at their best on tracks like “Having a Good Time” and “Do You Know Ida No?” which features vocals by Izella Berman–who Jack calls his “newest discovery.”
Beyond a comparison of sound, Jack’s concepts are also important to Magic Touch. Despite being a trilogy, it’s difficult to define the connection between his first two projects and his latest, even when directly reading lyrics from each. Jack said in an interview with Weirdo Music Forever that Light Show was about rivaling gangs, ending with the “good gang” dead. Later, he says, Weird Moons tells the story of the good gang’s rebirth on Jupiter as werewolves. While his first two projects contained impressively complex and narratively-driven lyrics–which were most notable on Light Show–his newest album feels detached from his previous work, both in lyrics and general sound. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when Magic Touch seems to be relying on a difficult-to-decern connection to previous projects, the album comes across as poorly constructed.
While some tracks on Magic Touch are respectable with their skillful guitar, vocals, and lyrics (even if these lyrics dwarf in impact compared to their predecessors), others feel remarkably incomplete. “A Moving-on Blues” is perhaps the best example of this frustrating issue. The song is a short one minute and thirty seconds long. Starting with enjoyably tiny guitar, lightly shaded with reverb, Jack’s voice arrives close and quiet, a calming and lovely presence. But soon, the song fades without moving far beyond its starting point. One could argue the track is a meditative interlude, maybe an intentionally minimal moment of thought. But Jack’s lyrics just aren’t insightful or creative enough to justify such stagnation. This problem hurts multiple tracks on the album, making for a listening experience that often bounces between enjoyable and lackluster.
Other songs, however, share the aforementioned track’s short runtime and minimal structural progression while providing stronger lyrics and more engaging sounds. “Empty Nights” is one of these tracks, with Izella Berman again offering vocals. The song is short and sweet; beautiful guitar dances behind a duet of voices–Izella giving an understated yet airly haunting performance. Though ending somewhat abruptly, the song serves as an example of Jack’s better efforts within Magic Touch. Later, “Sacred Place” finds Jack crafting a thankfully more developed song–giving us a vision of the potential of his musical story-telling within the Magic Touch world.
Magic Touch is an album stuck between good ideas and underdevelopment. Sometimes, it feels like had Jack spent just a little longer developing his work, it would stand out as a beautiful, final chapter in a three-part story. But then, the songs end without moving, quickly leaving without fulfilling the promise of their introduction. At other points, Jack’s writing and melodies prove his talent with few areas in need of improvement. This makes the album feel strangely thoughtful yet haphazard. It’s easy to notice Jack’s skill, but his relative lack of follow-through makes Magic Touch a disappointing listen.