Magnified by Failure
Pity the sophomore album. You either strike out and people stop caring, or you come out with The Pants-Pissingly Perfect Third Album and people stop caring. The latter fate has befallen Magnified, the sophomore record from 90s cult heroes Failure. When (if) people talk about Failure, they're usually referring to Fantastic Planet, the cinematic space-themed concept album about heroin that offered atmosphere where most went punk, but I think Magnified has the edge over it. If Fantastic Planet is Failure in low earth orbit, Magnified is Failure out by the dumpsters behind the mall—an all-encompassing, firey burnout, overdose, and rebirth, in the same album. What a set.
What puts the album above most forgotten 90s alt-rock efforts is the way each song is structured. Swarthes of Magnified are propelled by dissonant chordal bass that doesn't groove so much as it quakes. Just look at "Frogs", which is the best song about lobotomies since "Lady Godiva's Operation". Or, hey, how about the title track, a regular Sesame Street episode that compares burning ants with a magnifying glass to killing and raping girls in the springtime. "Undone" is a tall highlight, marrying themes of sexual deviancy and abuse over noise pop hysteria. Throughout, the songs remain as tight as ever, with only the bleak, monochrome closer "Small Crimes" having a sense of sprawl. How fitting that a track about arson burns like uncontrolled wildfire. It's not a happy listen, but Magnified is deeply satisfying—and sorely-overlooked.