There’s probably no shortage of reasons Nikolas Thompson relocated across the Pacific. Searching for some sort of artistic truth and inspiration must have been among them. 

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You don’t move halfway around the planet not looking for some answers.

There’s probably no shortage of reasons Nikolas Thompson dug up his roots in Oklahoma and relocated across the Pacific to Seoul, South Korea. Searching for some sort of artistic truth and inspiration must have been among them.

Judging by Magic and Mystery, Kite Flying Robot’s sophomore album, he found it in that kinetic, forward-thinking landscape that finally affords the pop-affixed indie-rocker the chance for the neon lights and fizzes in his head to be matched by those flickering outside his window.

Not that it’s inherently impossible to construct that sound here, but there’s a reason the Sooner State has historically bore the world more salt-of-the-earth types than Gary Numans or Mark Mothersbaughs. Likewise, Magic and Mystery’s bouncy, dark pop comes a little easier, a little less forced than it did on 2010’s Solid Gold. The sound was streaming in Thompson’s veins, but now he’s soaking in it inside and out.

Slotting in neatly aside the boyish, theatrical and lovingly dweebish brand of pop that found Fun. and Neon Trees topping charts of late, spazzy-chic songs like “Belong to the Beautiful” and potential breakout single “Fire with Me” are executed with a bold self- assurance. This is a pop scientist in his element, madly working to find the perfectly addictive formula of throbbing neon-guitar pulses, ’80s-keyboard set pieces and bubbly romance narratives — and coming pretty damn close.

Thompson & Co. are especially formidable (and radio-ready) in the slowed-down but still very much engaged balladry of “On Your Merry Way,” the most nuanced and sophisticated indie-pop gift from the record. The same could be said of its simmering follow-up “Bad Girl” and chamber pop-culled “So Goodbye.” There’s a special talent on display there; cultivating captivation out of such measured movements is no small feat.

Magic and Mystery isn’t a flawless victory, though; the strength of the whole masks the flimsiness in spots. Like an off-the-rack suit, it’s just sharp and polished enough to help gloss over the ill-fitted moments.

The punchy “Criminal Supervixen” shines in flashes — namely, the bridge — but other times struggles to find the right tone between cheekily cartoonish and accidentally goofy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the title track, which clocks in at over six minutes, drags noticeably. It’s a soft and pretty enough song that takes itself a little too seriously in its arduous build toward its destined crescendo.

This isn’t a subtle effort, and as overt and heavy-handed as pockets of the effort are, Kite Flying Robot deserves credit for the emboldened audaciousness with which it attacks its songs. The band does so knowing it only amplifies the imperfections, but it remains undaunted, like a stage actor swinging for the fences.

Recorded piecemeal across locations in South Korea, Oklahoma and New York with a smattering of collaborators and musicians from near and far, Magic and Mystery has a lot of tricks up its sleeve with only the occasional dead pigeon. It’s certainly more Houdini than Gob.

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Joshua Boydston

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