Pop duo Magdalena Bay released their third mini mix – appropriately titled “mini mix vol. 3” – a 15-minute long audiovisual fever dream, unfolding against the backdrop of their masterfully crafted synth soundscape on April 13.
Magdalena Bay, consisting of Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin, has been described by a variety of writers as “chronically online,” referring to the fact that their music is just as much about sound as it is about the digital vessel delivering it. As seen in all of their mini mix music videos, the two are plugged in, with their fingers on the pulse of the parts of the Web that are still human. Their web-based aesthetic digs beyond the carefully curated, fenced-in realities of social media and the clean, ad-optimized visual interfaces of the digital publications, instead drawing inspiration from Internet Archive footage, Web 1.0 personal sites and GeoCities gif archives.
The duo themselves exist just as much online as they do offline, possessing an Internet savviness that has helped them gain notoriety during the pandemic, a period when live music wasn’t thriving. In late 2020, their song “Killshot” gained notoriety when someone made an anime character thirst trap to a slowed, reverb-heavy version of the track. Taking note of this, the two announced that they were releasing their own slowed + reverb version of the track in a slightly absurd TikTok captioned, “This is an ad.”
They have carved out their own niche of digital output that differs from both the fine-tuned relatability of influencers and the awkward PR TikToks scripted by record labels trying to figure out how to harness algorithm virality. They have cultivated their own unique brand of TikTok meta absurdity, regularly interacting with fans through Mag Monday livestreams, and promoting their music through hand coded websites that look like they could’ve been hosted on Geocities.
This attention to presentation translates into their sound as well. The duo met in high school as part of a prog-rock band called Tabula Rasa, whose repertoire included what can only be described as a 20-minute-long musical epic that carries the listener through a variety of melodies and moods with nothing but five instruments and Tenenbaum’s vocals. They separated during college, only to reunite again after and start making pop music as a bit of a joke. In an interview with Under the Radar, Levin described pop as the “antithesis of what [they] enjoyed listening to at the time.” He added, “Only when we started writing it did we realize it’s cool, and that there are subtle intricacies [and challenges] and I didn’t know those complexities existed in pop.”
They pay close attention to these complexities in their music, getting to the heart of the musical ideas they want to express and creating synthpop that truly feels like it comes “straight from the stimulation.”
These two niches – intricate synthpop and old web aesthetics – are united in their mini mixes. All three volumes clock in at under twenty minutes, acting something like a digital Happening as each song and accompanying visual opens a temporary portal into Magdalena Bay’s unique soundscape.
The opener of “mini mix vol. 3” “Slug Song” invites the listener on a musical journey. The video stars Lewin on the keyboard. Tenenbaum is dressed as a sea captain and a sea slug on a boat in an artificial ocean, wiggling under a moon with a face. Over sparkling synths and sounds of the sea, Tenenbaum sings, “You know what you’ve got to do / You’ve already come, you’ve already come this far.” The song ends with a Magdalena Bay mini mix trademark, mimicking FM radio. A voice says, “You’re listening to,” followed by an impersonal harmony of voices singing, “Magdalena Bay.”
Tenenbaum throws up three fingers as the phrase “mini mix volume three” echoes and contorts into the murky “EXO.” Magdalena Bay work their greenscreen magic as Lewin plays the drums and triplicated versions of Tenenbaum shimmy in front of patterns that look like they belong on an arcade carpet. Tenenbaum’s voice soars above the thumping bass that steadily crawls up and down melodies. In between verses in English and French, Lewin riffs on an electric guitar, whose rough character contrasts with the light ethereality of Tenenbaum’s voice as she declares, “EXO / EXO, LO / Haunting me.”
“EXO”s spoken outro leads directly into the languished “2 Wheel Drive” which sees Magdalena Bay leaving the digital world for a bicycle ride through the neighborhood. The song is dreamy and familiar, complete with the barks of a neighborhood dog in the background as Tenenbaum sings, “Two-wheel drive / Apple of my eye / Call my name.” Around the halfway point, the instrumental takes the foreground, as the percussion rapidly accelerates the song into shimmering synth heaven. What appeared to be an ordinary trip into the woods turns into a completely different type of trip as the colors distort, everything starts spinning, and a glowing alien beckons the viewer forward.
The barks of “2 Wheel Drive” come to the forefront in “Top Dog” as woofs punctuate Tenenbaum’s smooth vocal delivery. There’s a calmness in the repetitive instrumental, lulling back and forth as Tenenbaum plays with the sounds of the nonsensical syllables she’s singing. In the first verse, she declares, “I’m top dog / And I like to swim in the dark / And if you know the movie Wild at Heart / Yeah, I can be like the girl in Wild at Heart,” turning and smiling at a framed picture of Laura Dern. The video matches, if not exceeds, the lyrics in whimsicality. In the second verse, Lewin waves a bell in front of Tenenbaum, Pavlov-style, and by the end, Tenenbaum’s head has flown off of her body as she croons the final chorus mounted atop an animated GIF of a pug.
“Tonguetwister” emulates the clunky feeling of saying a tongue twister, switching between cleanly enunciated verses and rapidly swirling synths that match Tenenbaum’s relatively intense delivery. The video shows two human-sized tongues getting in a tangle in a boxing ring, with Lewin and Tenenbaum acting as referees trying to push them apart.
“Wandering Eyes” is Magdalena Bay’s take on an acoustic guitar ballad, cushioning Tenenbaum’s voice with a waterfall of noise, steady and constant yet fully filling the soundscape. The catchy chorus plays with vowels, declaring, “I think I’ve had enough, I think I’ve had enough of wandering eyes.” Her voice grows to a screech near the end as she competes with the increasing intensity of the waterfall of sound, declaring, “I think I” as she loses a staring contest against a giant eyeball in the sky.
Tenenbaum and Lewin roll credits during “Slug Song (Reprise),” emphasizing the humans behind the art by crediting friends who lent their drums, helped film, and even participated as “tongue actors” by first name alone. Magdalena Bay’s artistry, both as musicians and visual artists, truly shines in “mini mix vol. 3,” as they unfold their riveting, 15-minute synthpop spectacular through whimsical visuals that embed the listener in their digital universe.
Teresa Pham is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.