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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Is it house? Is it electronica? Is it pop? All I know is that it's "Magnets," and it's awesome.

Disclosure's masterpiece with Lorde has a downright outrageous beat and great lyric / instrumental coordination to drive home its narrative.


As Sunday afternoon turned to evening, I really wanted to listen to something electronic and groovy... but not straightforward house music.


While I love the driving, energetic beats of typical house — as I've made abundantly clear throughout the first month and a half of this project — I sought something slower today. I went through a number of electronic tracks, and I liked what I heard, but I realized I still wanted to really move to what I was listening to.


Then it dawned on me: "Magnets" was exactly what I was looking for. A mid-tempo groove that just explodes in its chorus, it makes me move as much as, if not more than, any other song in Disclosure's deep catalog. Lorde's masterful vocal feature plays a part in that, seamlessly fitting into and augmenting Guy and Howard Lawrence's heavy, yet sleek production. Plain and simple, I love this track.

The first adjective that "Magnets" brings to my mind is 'pulsating.' There is never a moment where the track doesn't feel like it's moving. Its kick drum-driven beat, with flavor added by a slow-attacking synth pad, is steady, constantly making me move my head to it at the very least. Within that constant pulse is a second, syncopated rhythmic level, which makes use of ever so slightly swung sixteenth notes as played by tribal-sounding drums. We actually hear that inner level more prominently in the opening seconds, which keeps it at the front of our mind even as it cedes to the larger-scale rhythms shortly thereafter.


Above the beat, Lorde sings in a manner that's both seductively soulful and pop-polished, as she delivers a "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored"-like narrative before Ariana Grande let everyone know it was cool to do so. The track's title comes from the second lyrical moment, in the third and fourth lines: "'Cause I felt melting magnets, babe / The second I saw you through half-shut eyes." In describing her attraction to her new, illicit love, Lorde's narrator fuses the figures of a melting heart and a magnetic attraction to illustrate both the speed and the intensity of the infatuation. The romance's scandalous nature is hinted at from the first lines — "Never really felt bad about it / As we drank deep from the lie" — and confirmed when Lorde asks if the woman next to her target is his girlfriend in the pre-chorus.


In a track with less... explosiveness? — sure, that'll be the word — than the mainstream house tunes that have succeeded on pop charts, it's always interesting to hear how the track builds (or doesn't) leading up to its chorus. In "Magnets," Disclosure takes a simple, yet consistently effective approach: they take out the percussion in the final measures before the hook. The timing also matches up very well with the lyrics — the kick drum is removed right after Lorde sings "bet the world she don't know," adding an air of mystery and providing some narrative tension as the listener waits to hear of what's left unknown on her end (spoiler: it's the affair that takes up the song's entire narrative). The tribal-like drums fade out during the final pre-chorus line of "Walk my way, I'll share the things that she won't," a line that, in its talk of physical movement, perfectly leads into the chorus and briefly away from the sounds that came before it. It's as if Lorde is walking down a hallway while she sings the line, leaving the percussion behind... before the impact of the chorus — and the tryst it implies — sets in.


While the verse and pre-chorus were atmospheric and set up the track's groove, the chorus is nothing short of massive. All the percussion is ramped up in volume and intensity, with the backbeat becoming thunderous, and a meaty synth bass adds more sixteenth note syncopation. The jump to the chorus really is in some respects a "point of no return," about which Lorde sings during the section, in how its volume and energy reflect back on the previous sections, and how the verse can't be heard the same way the second time through the form. In "dancing past the point of no return," the affair around which the narrative revolves truly begins in its physical intimacy, as Lorde implores her lover to "[l]et go" and "free ourselves of all we've learned." The repeated final line of the chorus, "Let's embrace the point of no return," is embodied by the backing becoming even more intense, with open hi-hats being added to the percussion and the synth pad from the verse returning with much more power than before.


In examining a track I've enjoyed listening and dancing to for the past six years, I realized why "Magnets" feels so complete to me — its narrative and its instrumentation work hand in hand, building each other up until they release themselves together. It's top-tier songwriting and production all in one, and it translates into one of the best electronic tracks of the 2010s.

 

A postscript: I would be remiss to not mention the way "Magnets" is spun in its official video (check it out near the beginning of the article). Although it doesn't align with what I hear in the song, the video is great visual storytelling that puts a really interesting twist on the track. While it initially looks like Lorde is having an affair with the male character after meeting at a ritzy, black tie house party, the second half of the video indicates that it's the man who's in the wrong and will soon get his comeuppance. The man's wife, who appeared uneasy in the kitchen scene during the second verse, is revealed to have a black eye from her husband's physical abuse. In the second and final chorus, Lorde, clad in a black latex outfit, is revealed to be a hit-woman, hired by the wife to kill her abusive (and adulterous) husband. In this case, the "point of no return" seems to have been when the husband began his domestic abuse, and Lorde taunts him with the chorus' repeated final line as she pushes him, tethered to a chair, into a pool and sets him ablaze. It's such a creative way to reinterpret the song, and Lorde's acting and dancing really sells it. Bravo to her, Disclosure, and video director Ryan Hope.

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