Still Life, the third full-length by Brooklyn-based Young Magic, is easily the globally conscious dream pop group's most personal statement to date. The album was inspired by lead songwriter and vocalist Melati Malay's homecoming visit to her native Indonesia following the death of her father. After an extensive period of digging up family lore, she returned to New York and began translating her feelings and personal discoveries into Young Magic songs. Malay and her usual cohort Isaac Emmanuel are joined here by musicians such as New York City cellist Kelsey Lu McJunkins, South American percussionist Daniel Alejandro Siles Mendoza, and jazzy electronic producer Erin Rioux. Still Life sounds as lush, expansive, and rainforest-like as the previous two Young Magic albums, but there seems to be more of an affected, yearning sentiment to it. The release also seems more focused, blending the group's myriad influences into a more cohesive sound. Previous recordings melded musical elements such as trip-hop, U.K. garage/dubstep, and dreamy mid-'90s IDM (a la Seefeel), and while those sounds are still present, they're less overt and more natural-sounding than before. Gamelan rhythms provide a heartbeat for these songs, but it doesn't sound like they're directly trying to emulate Indonesian musical traditions. Malay's ethereal, multi-layered vocals mesh comfortably with the resounding bass tones and soft guitars on songs like "Sleep Now." "Held" is Young Magic at their most blissful, with rolling drums, gorgeous strings and harps, and a freely floating midsection. "Default Memory" is the album's soul-searching highlight, with more insistent but still dreamy rolling drums, gently buzzing synths, detailed production, and sighing vocals that revolve around the longing hook "but I would like to be with you." The album has a soft, loose, and delicate sound, but it never feels weak or hopeless; Malay's sentiments are always urgent and sincere. Still Life is a captivating album of intense personal reflection, and marks a significant amount of artistic growth.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson