Mirror balls and glitter eyeshadow, sequined dresses and hippie sunglasses and Country ballads melding into disco dance classics; a young woman in a sparkling dress and cowboy boots stares at her reflection in the mirror and retells what she sees within.
This is the image conjured by the critically acclaimed Jan. 15 release of “Magic Mirror,” a fresh fusion of genres and melodies in one coherent, celestial album by the up-and-coming indie icon Pearl Charles.
With a long history in music beginning when she was just five years old, Los Angeles native and California Institute of the Arts alumna Pearl Charles is an accomplished musician and singer in the early stages of her blossoming career.
As her second LP, following “Sleepless Dreamer” (2018), “Magic Mirror” is a welcome cup of nostalgia chased down with innovation. Seemingly the love child of music from such artists as Fleetwood Mac, Kacey Musgraves, Abba and many of the greats that emerged from Laurel Canyon during the ’60s and ’70s, Pearl Charles’ clear voice gently shines over the tracks and breathes sentiment into her characteristically vibrant, cosmic-country guitar warbling and disco keyboarding.
Though the media (this author included) often compares Charles to famous musical acts that came before her, Pearl Charles’ music is entirely her own and worthy of individualized praise. From the album’s narrative to the sound mixing, it would be unfair to call the music Charles produces anything other than original, despite its roots in the works of artists who have influenced her.
From the vivacious disco opening that is “Only For Tonight,” Charles clarifies a cogent tone of melancholy often underscored by conflicting yet sonically fitting upbeat music. The buoyant track feels like a seminal disco dance number from the ’70s, yet the lyrics focus on a failed one-night stand that results in lingering feelings with lines like “Don’t think twice/ Although we’d never make it/ Tonight I’m gonna fake it/ Only for tonight.”
Aside from the shimmery imagery and effervescent keyboard synths, the album tells a story of longing, heartbreak and self-discovery. One of the best tracks from the album, “Imposter,” begins with the lyrics “Never look into the mirror” and continues on to declare, “I am the imposter/ I already lost her/ I keep looking for myself.” This song is emblematic of the album’s general tone, with profound personal introspection over saxophone, keyboard and drifting country guitar riffs. This idea continues in “Don’t Feel Like Myself” with the same focal mirror-based self-examination as Charles writes, “A face in the mirror, your reflection won’t look you in the eye/ Too scared to die, but barely alive.”
The title track “Magic Mirror” is truly a memorable song. Charles asks, “Magic mirror, what can I do?/ I’ve been lost inside of you/ I’m a magnet for your twisted point of view/ My eyes are red, my heart is blue” in a peaceful duet with her piano. Her voice has a truly ethereal quality that softens and smooths over her often complex, varied background and makes her music simply special. However, it is her song “What I Need” that is undoubtedly the catchiest, and most emblematic of Charles’ distinctive style. The song’s upbeat instrumentation is laden with a melancholy, meditative narrative which is surprisingly carried with ease. It strikes just the right note between Charles’ two warring moods and soothes the conflict between sorrow and enthusiasm until they achieve harmony.
And yet, the album’s lyrics are not all solemn and dramatic. Chirpy love songs like “All the Way,” “Sweet Sunshine Wine” and “As Long As You’re Mine” balance the more pensive nature of the album and produce a rich, soulful tracklist.
However, the album is not without its flaws. Oftentimes, the instrumentation is lacking, or in the case of “Only For Tonight,” slightly overpowering. There are moments when the tone and message can feel sickly sweet, but they are few and far between. “Magic Mirror” is definitely an album to remember, and it’s a refreshing start to 2021. It is safe to say that there are not many current albums like “Magic Mirror” or artists like Pearl Charles.
After the stress and general fatigue left in the wake of 2020, “Magic Mirror” is just as enchanting as it claims to be and possibly the perfect album for this moment.