When the single that made the career of Canadian pop-reggae goofballs MAGIC! comes up for the first time, they call it "our song, ‘Rude,’" as if it needs some kind of introduction. I’m talking to them between shows at SXSW in Austin, and when I tell them I don’t want to focus on the song, they tell me, "We don’t either." I can’t blame them. I’m reminded of a Baauer DJ set I caught earlier in the week, one that steered well clear of his titanic "Harlem Shake." The songs travelled different roads to No. 1 — "Rude" enjoyed a conventional rise, and "Harlem Shake" was such a viral force it made Billboard change its singles chart formula — but they ended up warping the careers of their creators in the same way.
But is there life after "Rude?" The band is trying to find it with "Lay You Down Easy," a new single that features stylistic predecessor Sean Paul, a plea to "turn our gadgets off," and consensual vaping. If you found yourself researching anechoic chambers and smashing the nearest radios in response to the tyranny of "Rude" two summers ago, this song will probably drive you crazy.
"Lay You Down Easy" sounds like how a chain restaurant piña colada tastes — sweet, tropical, vague. It uses Bob Marley’s "Waiting in Vain" to make a point about being unbearably horny. With that said, I can’t remember what my brain was like before this song took up residence within it. It’s an economic, catchy display of songwriting prowess, and while it’s a longshot Song of the Summer contender at best, it’s a country mile ahead of last summer’s miserable loosie "#SundayFunday." (Think "Manic Monday" crossed with "The Lazy Song," left to marinate in a dumpster.)
The band spent last week road-testing its new material at the clubs and parties of SXSW, and I asked them about the way people are receiving "Lay You Down Easy" and the rest of their new songs. "It’s slightly risky, right?" says Nasri, MAGIC!’s lead singer and its most experienced songwriter. "We actually smoked a little vapor one time, and we decided we should write a song about it." A debate about the relative merits of marijuana combustion vs. vaporization ensues, though I’m asked to note the song uses the nondescript "vapor" rather than "weed" or some other specific herbal product. "We avoid combustion. We just go straight to vapor," says Nasri. "We just plug in an electric kettle, coming to a boil."
"To have Jamaican cats like our stuff makes us feel so good"
MAGIC! isn’t withholding "Rude" from its fans — "We know that’s the song people want to hear, and you give it up at the end as a send-off" — but it isn’t letting the song compromise its forward motion, either. At this point, the band’s goals are rather humble: they’re developing their individual songwriting careers, and they’re earning their reggae bona fides. According to guitarist Mark Pellizzer, Paul "threw his swag all over" "Lay You Down Easy," and his tacit endorsement means a lot to the band. They grew up surrounded by reggae in Toronto, and their affection for the music is earnest. You can call them dorky, but you can’t call them disingenuous. "We make reggae music, and to have Jamaican cats like our stuff — Sean Paul’s supporting us, we did a show with Damian Marley, Kiprich — that makes us feel so good," says Pellizzer. "Because those dudes support us, we feel like we’re doing them justice."