Big Star’s Third may have been dead upon its release in 1978, but the damaged swan song of Memphis’ ill-fated power pop legends lives on in strange, sometimes wonderful ways. Last year, Django Haskins, the leader of the chamber pop outfit The Old Ceremony, collaborated and toured with the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, whom he met through the tribute project Big Star Third Live. Now, for his sixth full-length record with The Old Ceremony, Sprinter, Haskins enlisted three stalwarts of that sprawling, on-again/off-again ensemble: Mitch Easter, who also produced The Old Ceremony’s most recent outing; arranger Chris Stamey; and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills. All can be felt to varying degrees in “Magic Hour,” the record’s hypnotic first single.
The title’s reference to the short-lived span of perfect natural lighting is apropos for music that is unabashedly cinematic. True to its name, “Magic Hour” casts an immediate spell, one that calls to mind mysterioso, a tempo directive that tells musicians to play in a reserved, enigmatic manner. It begins with a halting drum cadence that’s joined by single notes of reverbed guitar. When Haskins’ voice comes in, it unspools an insinuating melody that instantly lays its hooks in you. For the chorus, the stutter gives way to a sensual sway. Throughout, Easter maintains a sparseness of sound amid a nimble accrual of instrumentation—organ, bongo, pizzicato strings, woodwinds, all with their place in Stamey’s arrangement.
If you close your eyes, you can envision a smoky casbah, one where couples tango. But Haskins’ lyrics are a beam of light through the shadows, an urgent invocation of “new chances to make a dent in this old forsaken world.” This hooky grabber sets up high expectations for Sprinter as a whole. Sprinter is out July 14 via Yep Roc.