Pearl Charles is no stranger to genre bending. Her self–titled EP combines elements of country and rock, and her debut album Sleepless Dreamer introduces Americana and folk to her catalogue. On her sophomore album Magic Mirror, Charles is even more adventurous. Taking inspiration from '70s pop and disco beats, she continues to branch out from her roots—creating a lush world filled with danceable tunes and subdued performances.
Magic Mirror begins with “Only for Tonight,” a dazzling, funky track that recalls the ups and downs of a one–night stand. The opening piano glissandos and vibrant synths are reminiscent of the instrumentation in ABBA’s "Dancing Queen." Instead of focusing on the pleasures of the present, however, Charles uses the upbeat production to reflect on what could have been. What begins as past failures in the first verse, described as “Sparkle fading / Strung–out on the town / Thought we were falling,” become hopeful fantasies in the chorus where Charles believes, “We can be together / Underneath those lights." This is just the beginning of the journey Charles takes throughout the album, dismissing negativity in favor of blissful ignorance. From the first track, Charles throws out all notions of reality—she is now immersed in her own world, free of any trouble she once faced.
Charles continues the theme of starry–eyed daydreams on “All the Way,” a drifting country breeze that conjures up images of pure delight and happiness. Not surprisingly, the lyrics paint a similarly beautiful and idealistic picture; as Charles recalls, “When I met you I felt something new / Like the dream that I had woken from just might come true,” Charles introduces the relationship she convinces herself will be perfect. She’s so engrossed and captivated by this vision that she’s willing to sacrifice everything for this person.
As the title implies, Magic Mirror would not be a real mirror without its fair share of false illusions. Accompanying the pleasure and happiness exuded by tracks on the first half of the album are also toned–down songs that focus on identity, self–classification, and introspection. “Imposter,” for instance, is a dreamy yet haunting rumination of what it means to be yourself and how to grapple with other personalities. Aided by ethereal and psychedelic steel guitars, Charles compares herself to what she sees in the mirror, trying to restore harmony between these two seemingly different personas.
The title track, “Magic Mirror,” is a piano–driven ballad in which Charles yearns for love and validation in the face of criticism and misunderstanding. She builds on these reflections as she searches for who she really is. The Alice in Wonderland reference in the bridge as Charles finds herself in a world "trapped inside the looking glass / And I’m just trying to find my way out” perfectly encapsulates her struggle to establish her individuality in unfamiliar contexts.
The album concludes with the groovy, soft rock “As Long As You’re Mine,” in which Charles emphasizes the power of love with how natural disasters and abnormal phenomena are unable to stop her eternal feelings for her partner. In a way, this track is a peculiarly optimistic view of the grim future; as she sings “It doesn’t matter if the world stops turnin’ / It doesn’t matter as long as you’re mine,” Charles reconciles the inevitable end of the world with the intrinsic connection she knows will never be broken, a fitting ending to her exploration of her other self–identities. The track ties together 37 minutes spent diving aimlessly in the ocean only to come up to the surface with a reinvigorated sense of purpose.
Sometimes, we need to step away from all the chaos in the world, forget about all the problems we may be facing, and mull over our thoughts. In the midst of the COVID–19 pandemic, we have more time than ever to spend examining ourselves. Charles originally planned to release Magic Mirror in the first half of 2020, but she delayed the album until last January “hoping … we should have gone through a whole arc of the year at that point.” Bars and clubs are still closed, but Magic Mirror is an album for nights spent in bed staring at the ceiling as much as it is an album for nights on the dance floor. It’s the perfect soundtrack to the beginning of 2021, a year still full of many unknowns as well as cautious optimism. A magic mirror may be just what we need to escape from reality.