As a violin and cello play a mournful duet for 30 seconds, we are lifted out of time and context: what type of music this may be and when in the last 120 years or so it was written both seem up for grabs. This is pretty charming in and of itself; here’s a musician willing either to trust that listeners can hang in there for a half-minute of uncertainty or to be uninterested in those who can’t—a friend of mine in either case. The other nifty thing this pre-introduction string duet does is deflect attention away from the reality that Magic Arm is a one-man band. Singer/songwriter Marc Rigelsford plays all the instruments, and while our 21st-century ears are fine with that in a setting of layered electronics and guitars, a one-person project is somehow the last thing one suspects when hearing two stringed instruments playing together.
Following the string pre-introduction, the song acquires a nostalgic pulse when the piano and percussion join in at 0:30 (you may hear some “Eleanor Rigby” in this, and maybe some “Alone Again Or”), and achieves liftoff with the arrival of the bass at 0:51 (a textbook example of how significant the bottom that the bass provides can be in a rock song). Rigelsford sings the verse with a thin, slightly processed voice, somewhere in that gray area pop singers have staked out between tenor and baritone. The melody moves at half the song’s rate and feels snippetty as it tracks generally downward. With the chorus (1:17), things change subtly but resolutely—the melody doubles its pace and Rigelsford’s voice, at a slightly higher register, seems rounder and warmer (as he sings “Is this the right way now?”). I can’t really describe it or explain it, can’t put my finger exactly on the hook, but it’s definitely in here; this is where the song fully sells itself to me. Listen to how the strings nuzzle their way back into the mix at this point; listen too to the synthesizer loops and see if you can figure out exactly how Rigelsford has so deftly combined acoustic and electronic sounds here. Hat tip also to the Herb Alpert-y trumpet lines (1:49), which take a turn towards the Bacharachian when they reemerge in the instrumental coda (4:00).
“Put Your Collar Up” originally came out on an EP Magic Arm released in August, but is making the rounds as a free and legal download now in advance of the album Images Rolling, Magic Arm’s second full-length release, due out in June. You can download it here, or go to the SoundCloud page and spare me a wee bit of bandwidth.