Scammers, Magic Carpet Ride

Crawford Philleo

I missed my chance to see KC's Scammers in Denver a few weeks ago at Rhinoceropolis by about 20 minutes. Huge let down. But alas, you just can't see them all. Since I had to go home from the show early and miss them (NOT my choice), to make up for it I went ahead and bought a tape from the duo anyway on a recommendation from a friend, and by the simple fact that project mastermind Phil Diamond and his friendly touring partner (a nice young woman who's name I cannot at the moment recall—I only know Phil's 'cause it's printed on the J-card of this tape's wonderful sort of weirdly almost NSFW fold-out artwork) were just super nice people, and I always like to support folks on tour. Added to that, the spine of this tape has the words “Lillerne Tapes” printed on it. Five bucks? Instant sell.

But I heard that I missed quite the sight at their show, and from listening to the tape it certainly sounds like Diamond has a charismatic flair to how he performs his music, both live and in the bedroom studio where I'm wondering if this music was recorded. You can almost see him when listening—in a dark room, spangled with light splaying from a disco ball, a microphone in one hand (probably above his head, cocked back down into his face), eyes clenched tight, maybe a tear running down a cheek, sweaty, red rosy-cheeked and clad in tight-fitting clothes. Yeah, there's something truly Vegas about Scammers that's pretty hard to describe, but overall it has to do with the general schmaltz you'll find throughout Magic Carpet Ride. From the opening moments on the tape in which Scammers quotes the tune “A Whole New World” from Disney's Aladdin, to Diamond's ultra-passionate tenor, an over-the-top, Bowie-meets-Scott Walker operatic sort of croon, Scammers is defined most by its humoristic jabs. And as you may have guessed, yes, it appears that the album uses Aladdin as a sort of euphemism for sex (“Rub My Lamp” is the name of one of the songs… seriously). But it works, lending an immature, starry-eyed innocence to otherwise adult themes, and actually doing it all quite poetically, executing with some interesting music to back it all up. Total risk, total payoff: Scammers buys into all this stuff just enough to sell it brilliantly—Magic Carpet Ride, which is at face-value a completely ridiculous proposition of a listen, becomes a magnum opus, a touching love story, a sexy dance party, and a beautiful work of art.

Musically, Diamond uses two approaches to crafting the songs here. Either it'll be an epically epic ballad, or it'll be an up-beat glitchy dance number in the vein of Kraftwerk. And he's great at both of these styles, which compliment that croon beautifully. “Blue Satin” and “Sand” bookend the tape in the form of the ballads, both incredibly sincere and honest and bursting at the seams with emotional energy. Then in the middle you've got the dancier numbers that feel like Scammers' true home—blippy synth melodies and chopped up drum beats to give his swaggering persona some real (sex) drive. Altogether, the tape ends up being a short, brilliant burst of a concept album that's a simple thing to make it through in a sitting. And like a real(?) magic carpet ride, it'll take you to unforseen heights and swoop you down to skirt the surface all in the same trip. Get swept up and carried away, but try not to take it too seriously… Remember, it's just a movie… that you watched when you were seven.

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