Magic Bronson

magic bronson

Times are tough, and Magic Bronson is nervous. The Los Angeles-born-and-based duo has spent its six years together soaking up what's going on in the world, and they're profoundly uneasy. Their response to most situations is to write a song, which is how the 2017 track "Nervous" sprang into life - and if you're new to Magic Bronson, "Nervous" is a good place to start. The itchy lyric - "All the things that make you nervous/ Crooked cops and guilty verdicts/ Fires, floods, parking permits" - is countered by an absolute swirling corker of a synthpop melody, and its earworm properties are pretty spectacular. (As New York City taxi drivers can attest - the tune was played on rotation in their cabs during Spring 2017 Fashion Week, after Kendall and Kylie Jenner used it to soundtrack an Instagram ad for their fashion line.)

Most Magic Bronson songs nail that same combination - stone-cold melody-making paired with lyrics that are provocative and sometimes trippy. What makes it special is that the duo - Matt Lieberman (bass, synths, most lyrics) and Michael Nicastro (vocals, synths, drum programming, production) - is constitutionally unable to write the same song twice. There's a "wry, slacker-cool and slightly stoned" thread running through everything (as Buzzbands.la put it when naming their debut full-length, "Wildlife," one of the best albums of 2014), but beyond that they never know quite what will come out of the pot once they've thrown in and stirred the ingredients. The only constants are fat bass, sumptuous choruses and lyrics that range from artful absurdism to plain old pure emotion, as expressed by two guys who've had a long day and need to vent.

Depending on where their imagination takes them, the pot might yield orchestral pop, an EDM anthem or a chunk of art-rock. Or there's the current single, "Knock it Off"- a woozy, '80s-referencing delight, and possibly the only song to have been inspired by the psychedelic cover art of Father John Misty's first album. Meanwhile, "Nervous" - featured on Billboard.com - was the direct result of Matt Lieberman's discomfiture at the Netflix miscarriage-of-justice series "Making a Murderer." They call the process Bronsonizing; you might call it the soundtrack to a fine house party. Either way, the stuff is addictive.

Nicastro, from Thousand Oaks, has been Lieberman's musical other half since they ran into each other at a neighborhood dive bar in 2012. They knew each other by sight: Matt, raised in Agoura Hills, had been playing in a hip hop band, and Michael, a drummer by trade, was in another local group. "We were both looking for something new to do, and his dad is a musician and had a home studio, so we decided to get together and use his dad's jam room," Lieberman says.

Together, they turned out to be greater than the sum of their parts. A classic pairing of opposites, they're a match made in music heaven. Nicastro is the eternal optimist, and bubbling over with ideas; Lieberman is "grumpy and sensitive" and plays devil's advocate. "I always tell Michael, 'Just show up and look pretty'," Lieberman laughs. Influenced by a gaggle of artists, from Kanye West and The Strokes to Bear Hands and breezy Brit popsters Years & Years, their policy from the start was to ignore genre boundaries. (Even the band name is a mash-up: "Magic", from Magic Johnson and "Bronson", from Charles Bronson - not the actor, Lieberman hastens to explain, but the English criminal.)

Songs began to emerge quickly, starting with the 2013 EP "Nor'easter." Lieberman explains the process: "Michael is all about the weird stuff and I'm about the pop side of stuff. When those two things come together - the weird stuff and the more radio-friendly stuff - they make a Magic Bronson song." "Nor'easter," which spent five weeks in the CMJ chart, was - yes - both weird and radio-friendly. Case in point: the track Werewolf, an indie-disco banger that has Nicastro cheerily giving a supernatural creature's view of things: "My clothes rip, I grow fangs/ My eyes yellow, I can't be tamed/ I'm on the move, I'm on the prowl/ It's pitch-black as you hear a howl."

"Bubble Games," from the same EP, featured in the series "Suits," marking the first of a stream of Magic Bronson TV and film placements. A very abbreviated list includes the track "It's Happening," which was heard on the web drama "StartUp"; "Fences," from their 2014 debut album "Wildlife", was on "You're the Worst"; and another album song, "Clouds," featured in the Michelle Williams film "Certain Women." There was also a second Kendall & Kylie sync, with "What a Week." Lieberman reckons their music is in demand for syncs due to their practice of "always thinking in the back of our minds when we're writing a song how it'll work with moving pictures."

Thanks to a good deal of blogger love, "Wildlife" was in the CMJ chart for seven weeks, and roped in an audience that increases with every release. (To date: there's been another EP and a string of singles; autumn 2018 will see a third EP, and the follow-up to "Wildlife", much delayed because of contractual snafus that are now resolved, will appear in early 2019.)

In the meantime, try to catch a gig. Magic Bronson are the quintessential gotta-see'em-live act; their shows are where people who weren't convinced before become committed Bronsonites. Nicastro is a capital-P Presence onstage, all 6'6" of him transported to some other plane. Using two mics, he inhabits the songs to a degree that feels almost dangerous. Picture Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring taking things a couple of steps further, and that approximates what Nicastro does up there. "To see a large guy move like that onstage… For the first couple of songs, the audience is looking at it with their heads tilted, wondering what's going on, but by the fourth song they're in our pocket," says Matt, whose own onstage role is the quiet one holding down the rhythm. "We like crazy, close-quarter shows where we can feel the crowd's energy. Sometimes I equate [Michael's performance] to an animal in a zoo, like a gorilla - you don't know if it's going to break through the glass."

It's the unpredictability that makes Magic Bronson so watchable and listenable. Next level stuff, about to break through the glass.