Earlier this year, Ethiopian-Finnish singer/songwriter Mirel Wagner celebrated the beauty of the dark side of life with her desirous death songs, but with Ruler of the Night, Tim Cohen's band Magic Trick offers its own take on pain and sorrow, cloaking heart-wrenching tales in a lush tapestry at the intersection of psych, folk, and country. Starting the project around 2009 during downtime from the sunny noise pop of his Fresh & Onlys -- though Ruler marks the second album under the Magic Trick moniker -- Magic Trick is a wholly different animal: introspective, heartfelt, and vividly lyrical in contrast to the Fresh & Onlys' playful swagger. Just as Cohen is pictured locked in a pillory on the album cover, he sings in the haunting ballad "Torture" of "going to the gallows in (his) mind" as a metaphor for being kept from holding the hand or feeling the heartbeat of his lover, tempering his anguish with lilting marimba, a Southern soul bassline, and layers of delicate harmonies by Alicia Vanden Heuvel (Aislers Set) and Noelle Cahill, whose talents are exquisitely realized throughout the record. Meanwhile, Cohen's ragged vocals search for salvation on "Invisible at Midnight," pairing nylon-string guitar with woodwinds and electronic drums, joined at the chorus with exuberant chanting vocals and hands that clap rather than pray. Between tales of heartache and loneliness, Cohen finds inspiration in a bad hangover (the jangling "Melodies") and existential crisis (the breezy, twangy "Weird Memory"), always counterbalancing the heft of his lyrics against sprawling arrangements and unexpected instrumentation, from the piano and sleigh bells of the title track to the autoharp of "Angel Dust." Aside from "Same People," with a hip-hop-like beat and mostly electronic orchestration that sticks out from the rest of the album like a sore thumb, Ruler of the Night works like a song cycle studying the oddly aching beauty of misery.
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AllMusic Review by Chrysta Cherrie