Updated: Mar 1
Favorite Track: Where U Goin' Tonight? Least Favorite Track: Brand New
Mac Ayres is known for a couple things: his illustrious voice, his outstanding multi-instrumentalism, his amazing songwriting, and his incredible producing. With inspiration from the likes of D’Angelo, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Marvin Gaye, J Dilla, and Amy Winehouse, the now twenty-three year old Berklee School of Music graduate crafted three magnificent albums that ultimately exposed his talent to the world and proved his strength in those aforementioned areas indefinitely. Mac Ayres’ 2017 debut album Drive Slow can be classified both as a collection of bedroom pop tracks that perfectly shape the late-night mood and a meditative journey for those rare, disconnected moments of relaxation. Songs like “Easy” and “Lonely” are not only examples of his songwriting prowess, but also his knowledge in creating exceptionally well-balanced tracks for listeners to become musically and lyrically hypnotized by. The following year, he took a fresh take on 90’s R&B/soul with the album Something To Feel. The instrumentation and fanciful lyrics presented on songs like “Under” and “Get to You Again” are intoxicating and stimulating, making this one of the warmest and most inviting pieces of music to come out of 2018. While he does work with some notable collaborators such as saxophonist Braxton Cook and producers Chris Anderson and Jack Dine, much of what makes this album so great is Mac’s self-generated musical ability. You can tell the songs all derive from him, as his vocalism, multi-instrumentalism, and producing is what really makes the album so exhilarating. Moreover, this concept was kept in his 2019 release Juicebox, presenting some raw, soulful performances, expertly balanced with live guitar and drum instrumentation and smooth R&B tones. Through his lyrics, Mac introduces his hopes to discover new things about himself, bringing forth some pure, unmatched energy, seen on songs like “Better” and “Smiley Boy - Live.” Consequently, there were high expectations for a 2020 release; a follow-up to continue his A-1 discography and seemingly invincible musical brilliance. After the long wait, Mac Ayres welcomed in the new year with something innovative and impressive. His fourth album Magic 8ball preaches to those dealing with loneliness through wondrous storytelling and sensationally groovy instrumentals, while also paying homage to independence and all one can do without worrying about attainability.
One of the hardest things to do in music is to become a successful self-produced artist. As shown in recent years, it seems as though some artists have only gained publicity or popularity through extensive connections and privileged musical opportunities. In fact, many of these artists are praised for being the hottest stars in popular music; however, some argue that their fame is undeserved and questionable, stating that the producers, ghost writers, and other music industry personnel are the real geniuses behind the face. This stereotype has utterly destroyed smaller, independent musicians hopes of recognition, feeling as though it is unattainable without connections. Mac Ayres challenges that idea. Magic 8ball is a project crafted for independent artists, meant to show that if you really set your mind to it, you have the tools to do anything and everything you want with your art. Additionally, some artists really struggle with controlling every aspect of their music, with the result usually being final projects that falter in musicality. Mac Ayres avoids this fate, creating some of the slickest and most polished R&B tracks of the new year; tracks that make you wonder how he even does it all himself. For example, “Where U Goin’ Tonight?” is so expertly layered and musically dense that it feels incomprehensible that Mac really came up with every single aspect of it. Nevertheless, it truly stands out in the tracklist. From the get go, the strong and groovy bassline is so grounding that even as more layers of voice, guitar, keys, and synths are added, Mac never drops the established primary groove. This song is definitely that one track assured to make listeners’ head-bop for the entire four minutes and twenty-four seconds, as Mac’s voice elegantly glides across the sensational groove. To have that much knowledge on how to arrange a track that so cleanly brings the funk and soul into one’s body is no small feat, and is nothing more but an inspiration to independent artists. Mac Ayres wants them to know that music industry luxuries are not the means for success; rather, it is the joy and love of making music that fuels projects of magnificent quality.
Another notable thing about Magic 8ball is the thematic sequences throughout. Running only twenty-eight minutes across eight tracks, Mac Ayres had no time for unnecessary filler tracks; therefore, he kept things fairly simple and ended up creating a musical rollercoaster, with a pretty appealing plot line. You can really separate this album into three categories: the entrancement, the climax, and the conclusion. The beginning track “Sunny & 62” features a recorded voicemail set to some ambient guitar riffs, voice hymns, and the sound of pouring rain. In this voicemail, we hear what sounds like a breakup, as he says “This my last time calling you, cause I’m just tryna link with you, and clearly it don’t seem like it’s that important to you” and ending it with “I just think you owe a brotha with a call.” After the voicemail is over, the drum beat kicks in, setting off an entrancing groove before Mac brings his vocals in. He poetically crones about waiting for his lover to call him back, which continues into the next track “Sometimes.” This has an obvious Stevie Wonder influence, heard in the chord progression and the guitar strumming. Again, Mac Ayres repeats the phrases “Sometimes I just feel so small” and “Sometimes I still hope you call,” continuing his anxious wish for his former lover to call. On the next two tracks, Mac Ayres seems to cope a bit better with the idea that he might never get a call back. The dark yet dreamy piano loop on “Nothing Else” is just as emotionally entrancing as the first two tracks. He sings for his hopes that this person would be upfront with him and tell him what they actually feel and see in the relationship, which he accentuates in the chorus by singing “Don’t only say what I mean but I mean what I say.” The following track “Brand New'' is the weakest of the eight, contrasting its predecessor in both feel and tempo. Mac uses beautiful strings and shoo-bop harmonies to support his soulful wails, which is a concept that could have been lengthened and experimented with more. Lyrically, he really realizes that there is no hope in rekindling the past fling, lulling how “But, if things, oh they never last/I guess I’m starting brand new.” These four slow-instrumental songs are meant to trap the listener in a state of delusion, which is an expertly placed theme before the climax.
The next three tracks on Magic 8ball transition into a climatic vibe of vulnerability and self-transformation. This is where Mac Ayres entrusts faith to guide him on the right path after his episode of lust and craving. The first track “Never Let Me Go,” where he partners with producer/beatmaker CARRTOONS, has a primarily pessimistic tone, reciting lines like “love’s just a feeling you get when you’re feeling alone” and “maybe nothing is out there for me so I’m staying at home.” Mac and CARRTOONS use primarily minor chords played on the piano, which capture a despondent and bleak attitude. The next track “Every Time” sees Mac roll back on his pessimism, as he questions and criticizes his urges for this person as well as his gloomy tone. The instrumentalism on this track is amazing, as he utilizes electric guitar strums and spacey, reverbed harmony to support his flow, which is well perceived in the chorus where he repeats “It seems like everytime I see you, I just don’t really see you/I just don’t really see you/I just don’t really see you.” The final track in this climatic segment is Magic 8ball’s highlight, “Where U Goin’ Tonight?” Through its head-bopping bassline, Mac Ayres questions “So whatcha doing being a stranger?” and answers with “Singing I got a ticket, but I can’t go/I need a place I can call my home, my home.” Mac transitioned from pessimism, to criticism, to realism, as even though this person has played with his heart, he still would rather return to that familiar love he so desperately wants to have.
The final track “Almost Home” sees Mac Ayres realizing that the illusions his desires brought forth were necessary in finishing the transformation from desire to acknowledgment. He asks himself in the pre-chorus “But baby, tell me, who’s that in the mirror?/Can’t seem to recognize him/Who’s gonna go remind him what’s been going on?/What’s been going on?” Mac’s longing has blinded him, creating someone who he doesn’t even recognize, but luckily, he realizes that “Something feels wrong” and that he “Won’t stay too long” because he’s “Almost home;” home being his true, authentic self. While this track wraps up the story perfectly, it also wraps up the musicality of the album very nicely. Mac features the jazz/soul drummer Corey Fonville from the group Butcher Brown, giving the song an ear-pleasing drumbeat to match the final conclusion. This cold drumming is matched with some funky bass playing, smooth electric Rhodes work, groovy guitar strumming, and a really nice harmonic layer that sounds like a synthesized whistling sound.
With Magic 8ball’s outstanding songwriting, storytelling, and instrumentalism, Mac Ayres has created a very repeatable, groovy album; a tremendous next step in his consistently amazing discography. This album is quite universal, as it appeals to music listeners who are in it for the musical elements, to those who listen to music for lyricism, and to those who are searching for reassurance that independency in music does not bring limitations or boundaries. Clearly, Mac shows no intention in breaking his trend of soulful musicianship and outstanding songwriting, and as long as he continues to find joy in creating phenomenal music for his grateful family, friends, and fans, there is no telling what the future won’t hold for Mac Ayres.