They were founded in 2009 by vocalist Paula Gilmer and synth wizard Sean Quinn. Both were experienced hands on the music scene; Gilmer was session singer, while as a member of EG signed rock band DUBH CHAPTER, Quinn worked with noted producer and guitarist Steve Hillage. TINY MAGNETIC PETS underwent a number of guises before percussionist Eugene Somers settled into the line-up.
The end result has been a kosmische driven hybrid of classic synthpop and more esoteric acts such as STEREOLAB. Indeed, it has been a steady musical progression from their minimalist 2010 debut album ‘Return of the Tiny Magnetic Pets’ to ‘On An Inter-City Train’, the undoubted highlight from ‘Stalingrad’. Things have gone well for TINY MAGNETIC PETS since the release of the latter, with luminaries such as Rusty Egan and Andy McCluskey giving their endorsement.
An appearance at in Düsseldorf’s prestigious ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE last October, opening for MICHAEL ROTHER and WRANGLER, reinforced their reputation as an intriguing live act, with Paula Gilmer’s impressive voice and seductive stage presence sitting well alongside Sean Quinn’s progressive synth solos. However, TINY MAGNETIC PETS have overall been less convincing in the studio; does ‘The NATO Alphabet EP’ do anything to change that opinion?
The EP is the perfect modern format, as it documents the artistic mindset of an act within a small body of work, without raising the unnecessary expectations that a full-length album would. Opening ‘The NATO Alphabet’, ‘Everybody Knows’ is immediately accessible NEW ORDER-esque pop, with some pretty vocals from Gilmer and delightful slices of Hooky bass. It also learns from the lessons of their previous releases, utilising a tighter production while still retaining the essence of the manual interventions that characterise the TINY MAGNETIC PETS sound.
As can be expected from a title like ‘Klangfarben’, this instrumental is an enjoyable homage to KRAFTWERK, but taking its lead from the looser ‘Radio-Activity’ era rather than the more robotised period that say, METROLAND are musically connected to.
The German for “soundcolour”, it refers to a technique whereby a musical line is split between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding timbre and texture.
It’s an approach that has served OMD well over the years and explains why TINY MAGNETIC PETS went down so well at the ELECTRI_CITY_Conference. It’s playfully Dublin goes to Düsseldorf via THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘What Goes On’… but the revelation of the EP is the soulful ‘Not Giving In’. Attached to a stuttering reggae inflected beat, it incorporates some shuffling syncopation from Somers to enhance the atmosphere. With detuned pulses contrasting the digital chimes and staccato voice samples, it’s a developmental triumph.
Continuing along a similar rhythm path, if THE POLICE had used a drum machine on ‘Outlandos D’amour’, it might have sounded a little like ‘No One At The Safe House’. Using some haunting muted trumpet sounds in the vein of THE BLUE NILE, it’s a tense Cold War dissident narrative reminiscent of ABBA’s ‘The Visitors’. Meanwhile the line “There is no love at the safe house” echoes the eponymous calling card of Australian combo ICEHOUSE.
Eerily, it concludes with an unsettling broadcast collage. As a result, the short slice of noise ambience that forms ‘2 Delta Bravo’ makes for a fitting EP closer.
‘The NATO Alphabet’ is TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ best body of work to date. The trio have engaged their potential audience, welcomed feedback and accepted criticism. From that, they have responded and delivered; the positive outcome is now present for all to hear. It’s a process that many independent acts could learn from.
‘The NATO Alphabet EP’ is available on CD and download direct from http://tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com/album/the-nato-alphabet
Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th April 2016, updated 14th June 2020