Magic City isn't on any map, but our guess is that the mythical burg sits somewhere in the middle of the Mississippi Delta's blues, New Orleans' swampy backwaters and Southern California's back alley of sideshow barkers and prophetic freaks (Waits, Zappa, Beefheart, et. al). The quintet features some south-city stalwarts — Anne Tkach (Rough Shop) on bass, Adam Hesed (ex-Bad Folk) on organ, JJ Hamon (Theodore) on guitar and Sam Meyer (Wormwood Scrubs) on drums — but the whole album is a projection of singer and guitarist Larry Bulawsky's fetid fever dreams. Les Animaux Épouvantables translates to "the appalling animals," and that bit of poetic French gives a fitting arc to the LP. "The sickness runs deep," Bulawsky sings on "The Sickness." So deep, in fact, that Magic City spends the bulk of these eight songs plumbing its depths.
As a vocalist, Bulawsky mixes Nick Cave's grave, gravelly baritone with a twisted preacher's come-hithers; the carnival organ and twin guitar lines on a song like "Animal Hair" help sell the grotesqueries. Bulawsky's theological bona fides get more fleshed out on "Animal Spirits," which contemplates man's base desires and multiform sins amid a relentless drum pattern; the instrumentalists even step in as a children's choir to sing a refrain of free will. Those heavenly voices turn funereal on the dirgey "Let Me Go," where overdriven Hammond organ chords and an airy vibraphone converge for the LP's most tender and haunting moments. But don't come looking to Magic City for anything so trite as redemption; this carnival of sin is much more rewarding, especially with Bulawsky as your guide.