‘After the Magic’ is a good record. It is not a great one. Where ‘To See…’ was a cohesive, colorful and massive achievement, Parannoul’s newest album has hit a bump in the road. The wall-of-sound, maximalist approach to art rock-tinted shoegaze is certainly fascinating as ever, and there’s plenty more to explore within the style. Though being explorative and playing it safe, while not mutually exclusive, are not the same. For every genuinely boundary-pushing, explosive excursion ‘After the Magic’ has to offer (“Insomnia,” “Parade,” “Blossom”), there’s twice as many duds. That’s not to say any song here is particularly abhorrent; frankly, they’ve all got heart and soul and ideas to expand upon. What they don’t all have is quality mixing.
The biggest burden ‘After the Magic’ is forced to carry is its sometimes immaculate though usually overbearing engineering. It’s not that any one track has a bad instrumental or that the vocals and lyrics are poor. It’s not that there’s any boring points—far from it. It’s that every other song sounds as if Rick Rubin EQ’d it with a hype man continuously telling him to make everything even louder. Sometimes this works (“Polaris,” “Arrival”). Sometimes it doesn’t. Either something gets drowned out or there’s no focus on any specific element of the song at hand, leaving your ears to wander aimlessly (“We Shine at Night,” “Imagination”).
The difference between the mixing here and what made the sound design on the debut record so grandiose lies in this conundrum. ‘To See the Next Part of the Dream’ constantly kept its eyes on the prize. Nearly every song had a focal point in the mix, so while the sonic avalanche graced your ears, you would have an idea what Parannoul wants you to pay attention to. You could see what they were going for. It made for a more consistent album and a more focused, singular experience. The lack of focus on ‘After the Magic’ leads to a more broken-up journey. There’s not a moment on this LP where it feels as if one song belongs with any other. It’s very disjointed and breaks the immersion such an atmospheric and demanding project requires.
Parannoul’s latest offering is far from bad. It’s an exciting shoegaze epic just as its predecessor was. Though ‘After the Magic’ is much less cohesive and would achieve the same effect on shuffle as it does played the intended way. For some, that may work just fine. For me, I don’t see myself revisiting it. I will, however, have certain songs on repeat (“Parade” is my personal favorite).
If you’re looking for a full-length LP to kill some time, you’d be better off listening to ‘To See the Next Part of the Dream.’ If you’re simply searching for individual tunes to tune out to, you can’t go wrong with ‘After the Magic.’ It’s flawed, though the praise it’s receiving indicates it won’t be a sophomore slump. Don’t be surprised if Parannoul returns with another album in the coming years that puts both this and the debut to shame. For now, we should humbly enjoy what we already have.