The talented trio of James Keen, Alex Ho, and Brian McCook, London’s Magazine Gap have been skirting the edges of the mainstream for years now, defiantly pushing their alt-pop sound across Europe, the US, and the Far East. Born in London via Hong Kong, the band have amassed an impressive fanbase from around the world, winning over fans and critics alike with their songwriting craftsmanship, quality production, and exceptional musicianship.
When we first caught up with the band, they had just released ‘Superficial’, a seminal pop single, it was the latest in a trilogy of releases set to tease us all and announce their upcoming sophomore album, and while it was a triumph in its own right, it had fans around the world crying out for more. Now, just two months after ‘Superficial’ set fire to the airwaves, the full-length record is finally here, bringing with it a wonderfully evolved sound that was definitely worth the wait.
Titled ‘What's That About?’, Magazine Gap’s new album is all about the period of discovery, experimentation, and evolution that followed the release of their acclaimed debut, ‘Light & Shade’. A reflective and inherently personal piece, it took six years for ‘What’s That About?’ to come to fruition, and with good reason. Not content with simply repeating or recreating the sound of their debut, Magazine Gap took the time to experiment and push themselves further, journeying into the unknown and inventing ways to keep their sound fresh, exciting and different. The result of this experimentation, ‘What’s That About?’ is an album like few others, one that revels in the unknown, celebrates the eclectic, and refuses to play by the rules.
Opening with the brilliant ‘Possibilities’, the band set an early pop precedent, capitalising on shades of timeless funk that ripple through the contemporary pop aesthetic and create a richness and depth that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. Joined by the album’s two leading singles in ‘For The Ride’ and ‘Superficial’, it’s an early and unassailable onslaught of polished alt-pop sounds, stunning vocals, and soulful lyrics that will have even the most anti-pop audience hooked.
Shifting gears to a lavish cascade of indie-soul, the album’s title track shines with a timeless and heartfelt appeal, laying down a steady foundation for the intricate sounds of ‘Kings, Queens & Jokers’. Arguably one of the most moving songs of the album, ‘Kings, Queens & Jokers’ is the band at their emotive best, offering a deeply personal piece that shines with universal appeal. It’s a deft midpoint between their usually upbeat sound and the requisite balladry of ‘In Two Minds’ that follows, acting as a smooth, almost seamless transition between two distinct, but wonderfully enjoyable worlds.
Digging deep into their bag of tricks, Magazine Gap excel in building depth through a calculated blend of transient brass tones and lingering piano keys on ‘In Two Minds’, expanding their sound and holding your focus with more textured and evocative musical strands that shimmer and shine throughout. It’s a new take on old school balladry, and it works perfectly. Adding further flavour to the mix, following cut ‘Ran For Cover’ weaves a reggae bounce into the evolving pop melody, elevating it beyond the traditional with a flourish of acoustic brilliance that will stick in your mind for days to come and cement your love of the band beyond any shadow of a doubt.
At the back-end of the album, Magazine Gap don’t slacken off, offering ‘Dancing in Quicksand’, ‘Snakes and Ladders’, and ‘Body Language’ as a textured whirlwind of funk-infused, indie-pop melodies that fire on all cylinders and ignite the airwaves with an undeniable party-starter sound. It’s a powerful and wonderfully orchestrated last hurrah for the album, one that leads into the cinematic overture of ‘Calling Card’ and the final folk-rock tones of ‘Jericho’.
An album built in fragments that have been tinkered with, reworked, and pulled apart over the course of six years, you would expect ‘What’s That About?’ to have a distinctly fractured sound, but to the band’s credit, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While each song lives and breathes with its own sense of character, there is an undeniable sense of unity throughout the album, and while the band aren’t always reinventing the pop wheel, they’re certainly perfecting it.
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