Under Review: Magic Hour


Courtesy of Surf Curse (Fair Use)

Sophomore Lucy Walker shares her thoughts on Surf Curse’s album Magic Hour.

Lucy Walker, Online Section Editor

Well, well, well. Look who finally learned how to play the guitar. I appreciate Surf Curse’s early fuzz-wash rock—but it can get repetitive. Magic Hour presents something new: more members, more drums, more bass, more complicated riffs. 

Their first three albums, produced by independent label Danger Collective, all had a similar sound but a steady progression in production. Both Buds and Nothing Yet relied heavily on simple yet ear-wormy riffs, but Nothing Yet’s lyrics exceeded some of the more simplistic pop culture references (songs “Heathers” and “Ponyboy”), and almost laughable teenage angst (“Freaks”) debuted on Buds four years earlier. Then Heaven Surrounds You began Surf Curse’s foray into synth.

Founding members Nick Rattigan (lead vocals and drums) and Jacob Rubeck (guitar) wrote their freshman album together when they were eighteen. While this is a feat I certainly will not be able to pull off in four years, there is only so much two guys from Reno can do without a bass player. Atlantic Records introduced Rattigan and Rubeck to Noah Kroll (guitar) and Henry Dillon (bass).The drums were brought forward. The new sound was deeper. 

Magic Hour is almost nothing like Surf Curse’s original sound. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Gone are the tinny, pre-wall-of-sound guitar and triangle-esque drums of albums past. “Arrow” starts Magic Hour off with a bang, and lead vocalist Nick Rattigan delivers a raw yet put-together sound. The song explores a nervous feeling of uncertainty in an ideophonic way, with the volume and tempo pairing nicely with bitter laments of loneliness. The drums bring rapid footsteps to mind, almost making it feel like the narrator is running from himself.

Standout lyric: “I’ve been talking to myself/but I don’t know what to say”

Memorable moment: 1:26

Rattigan makes his crooner debut in “Cathy,” a truly Surf Curse-ish ballad. I think this song is a nice break from its predecessor—it’s great and all, but any more screaming and I would’ve gotten a headache. This track is a bit of a deviation from the Buds-beaten path, but certainly not unwelcome.

Standout lyric: “Nobody’s perfect, you’re worth it, where did you come from?”

Memorable moment: 2:10

The second the single “Sugar” dropped in May, I knew Magic Hour was going to be awesome. Within the first few seconds, it is clear that someone somewhere finally learned there were more than three frets. And a hi hat! Perhaps Rattigan came into some money after Surf Curse got TikTok famous and was able to afford one. From a lyrical standpoint, this track is a little deeper than what we’ve seen before. “Sugar” expresses the duality of needing someone: how wonderful it is to be with them and how sick it feels when they are gone. 

Standout lyric: “I look like hell, ‘cause I’m going there first”

Memorable moment: 0:43

Rhythm guitarist Noah Koll shines on “Lost Honor.” This track embodies the sound of this album. It details the story of a criminal, his affronts to the law unexplained and unimportant. He’s innocent. He’s afraid, but the one thing keeping his head up is seeing his lover. Everytime he looks in her eyes—as the cops cuff him, while he swears to tell the whole truth and nothing but—he describes a newfound resilience that no one can take from him. He wants to spend his life with her, out of the “public eye.” While unconfirmed, this song could draw from guitarist Jason Brubeck and Rattigan’s personal experience. 

In August of 2020, an anonymous Instagram account accused Rattigan of sexual misconduct, which he denied, saying, “There hasn’t been a moment in my life that comes close to what was described in that post.” Their record label dropped them. Shortly thereafter, the account rescinded their accusation. No legal action was taken against the account, Rattigan said. “The person who made the claim, whose identity I don’t know and whose privacy I want to respect, voluntarily retracted their statement against me and cleared my name.” 

Standout lyric: “I want years where you remember me”

Memorable moment: 0:43

I do not know why “Self Portrait” is one of the most-streamed tracks on this album. I get that it’s edgy, it’s emo, but it sounds bad. Rattigan is just wailing about how sad he is for three and a half minutes. If you’d like, I give you full permission to skip this particularly unmagical 5.8% of the hour.

Standout lyric: “YEAH!”

Memorable moment: 0:20

A lilting, Modern English-esque acoustic rush makes “Unwell” stand out against some of the more dirge-like songs in Surf Curse’s discography. The narrator expresses an agitated need for companionship. Thankfully, it’s “too late to drive you home,” so present company is stuck with him for the night. This track presents an interesting alternative to “Cathy.” Here, the narrator is the lonely one, and everyone he needs to listen to him keeps trying to pull away.

Standout lyric: “I think that I’m starting to tell/that I’m hurling, I’m twirling, I’m drifting away into the arena of the unwell”

Memorable moment: 4:35

This track’s twang certainly is a bit “Strange.” With scenic imagery, a buzzy answering riff and even orchestral supplements, it seems Surf Curse is becoming a quartet of regular “Midnight Cowboys.” The repeated line, “running through fire with you” reminded me of their 2013 “Fire Walk with Me” off Buds, in which the narrator tells the listener to go away with him. It seems that “Strange” is the sequel. Something terrible happened to whomever he’s run away with, and he feels so stupid looking back on something he could’ve prevented.

Standout lyric: “So pure, it’s tragic/we’ll never stay in tune”

Memorable moment: 0:00

TVI” feels like a coming-of-age film, its rolling melody evocative of sticking your hand out of a car window and letting the wind move it up and down. Once the chorus hits, I can’t help but think of a similar song. The chorus’ rapid bass drum kicks would not feel out of place on R.E.M.’s iconic apocalyptic track “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine),” which features analogous lyric (ten o’clock TV hour) and frantic feeling. Also appearing in “TVI” is a reference to Nick Rattigan’s third side-project:

Standout lyric: “When I was a boy/I went down and I found the sound of the Current Joys”

Memorable moment: 0:45

The 70s sound of aptly named “Little Rock ‘n’ Roller” and its intro a-la “Bang a Gong” by T. Rex leads me to classify it as “dad rock,” a genre composed of young acts showcasing classic influence, just devoid enough of screaming to keep the proverbial fathers’ hands away from the skip button. This track is a bit “Cathy”-esque—perhaps Rattigan has found a new vocal style. That would certainly help with the screaming.. 

Standout lyric: “Watch a big ol’ smile/grow upon your face/do my best to keep it in its place”

Memorable moment: 2:10

Surf Curse is definitely experiencing some pretty wrenching collective heartache, and it shows. Continuing previous parallels of love and destruction, “No Tomorrows” features another existential Rattigan, doubting if he can make it to the next day even with the help of his better half. 

Standout lyric: “You’ve always been a good friend/isn’t that the point of living”

Memorable moment: 1:24

I was really not prepared for the intro to “Fear City.” I was expecting discordant, chaotic… of course. But I was not expecting saxophones. This exhibition is definitely one of Surf Curse’s more experimental tracks. Featuring a main singer other than Rattigan (and a few other members), “Fear City” is more of a dialogue than a soliloquy. It’s giving “Self Portrait”—goth and weird and loud with no regard for sanity. That said, I don’t hate it. It’s the kind of song that grows on you a little every time you hear it.

Standout lyric: “Hey you, over there with the beautiful smile (Who me?) Yeah, the gapped-tooth and the years of denial”

Memorable moment: 2:16

Randall Flagg” pays homage to a character appearing in several of acclaimed author Stephen King’s works, including “The Stand” and “The Dark Tower” series. Flagg is usually depicted as an ominous wanderer antagonizing the story’s hero, which pretty well mirrors the feel of this song. Magic Hour is infused with a psychedelic/cowboy/rock blend. Each of those conjure images of a lonely troubadour traversing the desert, not unlike Flagg. This track ends the album on a note of self-doubt and anticipation, perhaps the fuel for Surf Curse’s success. 

Standout lyric: “Saw myself inside a painting/startled by the way my face bent”

Memorable moment: 0:00

Magic Hour is definitely the beginning of a new era for Surf Curse. This advance is due largely to the help of Atlantic Records, who has produced artists from 100 gecs to Booker T. & The MGs. While a mature and refined addition to their catalog, the album did have its drawbacks—it is more yell-y than some of their previous releases, and in some places the album’s experimental nature falls flat. However, that is to be expected when an artist tries something so new, especially after so much of the same. Overall rating: 8/10.