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Photo Credit: Jason Blyskal
In 2022, Alex Bingham (aka Magic Al) was blindsided by the deaths of his best friend, his aunt, and his college roommate within the span of a few months. As death has a habit of doing, these losses set his heart to questioning many things that had formerly felt concrete. He realized it had become harder to find the passion for music-making he’d once considered intrinsic. Searching for a new orientation, he turned to his inner child and began the recording experiments that would become Good Grief: An ode to endurance by way of joy-making; to dancing as a target and a cure.
To create his 9-track cathartic dance party, Bingham enlisted an all-star roster of songwriter and vocalist pals, including Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, Caamp’s Taylor Meier, Mountain Man’s Molly Sarlé, Rosali, and Mipso’s Joseph Terrell among several others. These collaborative tracks join a handful of solo instrumentals to create a kind of producer’s mixtape. The album’s first single “Party for One” is a joint release with the Triangle’s tender troubadour, Lou Hazel (aka Chris Frisina), premieres exclusively today with The Big Takeover Magazine, and will be released July 21. Good Grief will be available November 10, 2023 via Sleepy Cat Records.
“Party For One” pulsates with the hormonal moodiness and longing of an unrequited teenage love story paired with a nostalgia-soaked prom. Bingham collaborated with Lou, who sings the lead vocal, to write the lovelorn bop based on Lou’s third wheel high school prom experience. Bingham called on world-class keys player Ariel Pocock, guitarist Chris Boerner (Hiss Golden Messenger) and percussionist Chris Gelb to continue building the track. The addition of background harmony by pop queen Amelia Meath (Sylvan Esso, Mountain Man) is the icing on top of the dreamy, indy-dance anthem Bingham and Lou sought to create. “It’s been a song I can pull up on a hard day to find my groove again and remember the feeling of being at a school dance or celebrating my friendship with Chris,” Bingham reflects.
“As a producer I have a tendency to secretly test tracks out at parties,” Bingham shares. Not long after “Party For One” was captured, he found himself DJ-ing a late night outdoors bonfire with some friends and decided to throw the newborn track in the queue. As soon as the music hit the speakers, the disco ball hanging from the tractor seemed to get a little brighter, and he saw a couple of friends grab hands, look into each other’s eyes and dance. “Chris and I both basked in the joy of seeing it all come together in real time,” Bingham recalls.“We knew we made something special,” he smiles.
Over the last decade, Bingham has cemented himself as one of the most beloved side musicians–primarily as a bass player–and producers in the world of folk and indie rock (especially emanating out of the Triangle of North Carolina). You might have seen him with Hiss Golden Messenger, Beth Orton, or Watchhouse, or heard his studio piloting of records by Libby Rodenbough and Lou Hazel. Now as Magic Al, Bingham has found the perfect pseudonym for his solo work.
Many of the tracks sprouted from the sense of a memory of his best friend, John, or his Aunt Angie which Bingham would then try to blow up to the scale of a song. He recalled John’s love of strumming along to CCR or Neil Young songs and found moments to lay breezy acoustic guitar over his stoner-ABBA beats. In this way the record-making served as a personal process of memorial, and beyond that a way to bring his living musical compatriots into a kind of togetherness with his lost loved ones. Throughout Good Grief, you can feel Bingham’s yearning to bridge the divides between dead and living, between profundity and lightness, between mourning and dancing.
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