A close look at the stunningly oblique 3D artwork to Nick Storring’s My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell reveals several familiar objects: a glowing lamp, a red-nailed hand, still life tomatoes, a floating ribbon, and a metal spoon teetering on the edge of a table. Rendered in strikingly artificial 3D, the image recalls a pleasurable, psychedelic approach to art not unlike Salvador Dalí if he had ever fucked around with 32-bit polygons.
This artwork signals that My Magic Dreams resides in the non-places of experience, that ineffable dreamland dwelling on ephemeral cultural and artistic experiences. This collection of moods and sounds is familiar ground for Storring, who is a seasoned ronin composer in the Toronto contemporary classical scene. His music has drawn on a breadth of influences including avant-garde, minimal, electronic, and most notably on this latest album R&B.
The thematic focus of My Magic Dreams is Storring’s love affair with Roberta Flack – musically speaking – with its song titles extracted from lyrics across her catalogue. Sometimes titles distill an aching mood, like the title track, other times purposefully omitting key verbiage like in “Pretending You and I” and skew the meaning into abstraction. This mystery and melancholy is a theme that permeates the album in both euphony and cacophony.
The architectonic was assembled through overdubbing acoustic and electroacoustic instruments in a manner that seamlessly flows through movements. The opener “Tides That Defeat Identity” shifts from a skittering percussion to an aching string section before switching back to a rumbling bass that seems to shake the rest of the instruments before fade-out.
The haunting harmonies of “Pretending You and I” delicately build tension before the melodic release of a harp timed to perfection, a welcome occurence in several places throughout the album. Like the opening track, “What a Made-Up Mind Can Do” disorients before the main theme arrives, and from the hissing distortion slowly emerges a bass and drum groove that unexpectedly vibes. As the groove develops Storring’s mise-en-scène of keyboards, electric guitar, and percussion find its closest relative in Miles Davis’ early ‘70s work, Big Fun and Rated X.
The song that appears most akin to Flack is “Now Neither of Us is Breaking”, which starts with brushed cymbals before accompanied by jazzed-up piano voicings and smooth ensemble of strings. When the drums drop out and the remaining instruments pause, it's as if they wandered into a moonlit clearing at the heart of a dense forest. When the cymbals return, they pull along with them buzzing synthesizers in one of the album’s most memorable moments.
The title track “My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell”, makes for an exceptionally moving conclusion. Opening with an evocative arpeggiated piano, the piece gracefully ascends to a high-frequency crescendo that ends up sounding much more hopeful than the devastating title would imply. The soundscape cannot help but recall 2010s microgenres like vaporwave, where electronic composers were inspired to rummage through forgotten tones heard in malls and vintage computers. But if this once ubiquitous breed of music has now gone the way of the dial-up, what fossils remain today?
My Magic Dreams shares the haunting abstraction of vaporwave as heard in Storring’s ability to filter the music of Flack through provocative compositions that blend the avant-garde with nostalgic ambience. If music is an interpretive, personal expression, then My Magic Dreams is also a translation, across decades and genre. Like The Caretaker’s 2011 masterwork An Empty Bliss Beyond This World who conjured apocalypse from dusty big band 78s, this album recontextualizes soft-focus R&B in a world of boundless atmospherics. Though the word “ambience” can’t be ignored, a song like “Now Neither One of Us is Breaking” never succumbs to mere ambience – the unfortunate “muzak” – because Storring’s spacious arrangements always retain their dynamism.
Storring mentioned in a recent interview that this a record best enjoyed driving at 3am. Indeed, the unpredictable and mysterious spaces in “Tonight There’ll Be No Distance Between Us” capture that disembodied feeling of hurtling through the night past scenery flicking too quickly to recognize in the dark. It is exactly this sense of unrecognizable familiarity that makes My Magic Dreams such a powerful experience. Though the title suggests disillusionment with what once enchanted, the imaginative approach to composition found here leaves the listener with confidence that Storring’s dreams shall remain spellbinding for quite some time.