In Cuddle Magic's previous incarnation, that 10-member ensemble of Info Nympho (here), we were treated to a fetching collective of songs that incorporated many modern moduses from musicians with impressive credentials, having worked with Fred Frith, Larkin Grimm (here), Ran Blake, Beyonce, and others. That's a roster not to be sneezed at, but Cuddle Magic is its own beast and capable, as we see with Cuddle Magic & Phyllis Chen, of any number of manifestations and delectations. Here, the choice to work with pianist/toy-pianist/percussionist/composer Phyllis Chen was a wise one, and the result of the collaboration is quite unique, a wonderland of kids music, naïf avant-garde innocence, Eastern trad mutations, and folky, Euro-prog.
The New Yorker, one of the best magazines in America, refers to Cuddle Magic as a "high concept chamber-pop collective", and I'd interpolate that, at least for this release, with an appended 'Laurie Anderson done right'. And when I say that, I mean minus all La Anderson's smarmy bourgeois conceits and shallow banalities, replaced by a strange meeting between Noh music and Lewis Carroll while opening for a resuscitation of the Third Ear Band for stoners and intellectuals who can handle unorthodox blends of aridity and lushness amid a lovely Kafkan ambiguity index.
For this CD, CM "stripped down" to a seven-person profile with the aforementioned Blake guesting on one cut and Edna St. Vincent Millay on another…well, her poetry anyway. Being comfortably ensconced in the grave, she was herself unable to make the recording session. I'm quite sure, though, that had she been able to see the end result, she'd be as taken with Matthew Gribben's elegant artwork and graphic design as with the musical content, which never ceases to invoke echoes of gamelon with the nursery and a masqued Robert Wyatt disquiet lurking about as Edward Gorey looks on in approval.
This is music for when you're feeling cynical while sotted on hi-sucrose liqueurs, when ya wanna read Winnie the Pooh as the 7 O'Clock News blares in the background, when Mr. Rogers and Sheriff John seem ever more questionable, and you just found out about something called 'satiric macabre' in literary efforts. When you don't want the savagery of Marilyn Manson but can't stand to turn on the TV otherwise, Cuddle Magic & Phyllis Chen might well be just what you're after. Just keep in mind: while it's an undeniably beautiful CD, I never said there wasn't a seditious creepiness underlying it either, and that's because I think you should get caught in the spiderweb too.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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