What’s That About is a brand new album from Magazine Gap, a London-based alternative pop band we’ve featured several times over the last couple of years. The album is scheduled for an official release in early June, but I was fortunate enough to get a preview of it. No real huge surprises here. Being familiar with this outfit, I fully expected this release to be polished and professional, and indeed it does deliver. However, I have to admit that it is even a little bit better than I expected.
The lead single Possibilities has a clean, groovin’ and almost jazzy feel to it. It’s an exceptionally pure recording. The open-ended sense of uplifting optimism also serves as a great introduction to the rest of the album. One element that has always stood out to me about this band is the stellar vocals. On this track, the singer’s voice reminds me a lot of the late Arthur Lee’s. I mean this both in terms of the actual sound of his voice, as well as the cadence and application of timed pauses. Go back and listen to something like Your Mind And We Belong Together, and you might pick up on this comparison (or not). The instrumental musicians play their part as well. The backing music is symphonically precise and crisp, while still managing to show off a little style. There are no weak links in this chain or talent imbalances.
The band states that they “don’t believe in throwaway tracks,” so on an album where we are treated to 12 full songs, we can assume they are each given the same meticulous attention to detail. I certainly didn’t detect any breaks in quality, but we do get some stylistic variation. Kings, Queens & Jokers for example, has more of a folk-rock vibe. Admittedly, I’m not much of an accent connoisseur, listening to this track I would never have guessed that this band is from London, as the sound occasionally comes close to resembling that “Roots Americana” or some adjacent subgenre. I believe I’ve mentioned something along these lines in previous reviews, but this isn’t like Thompson Twins, where you can immediately tell where they’re from.
At it’s core though, this is an alternative, adult contemporary/pop album. It’s very positive and mainstream friendly, free from much of the cynicism and angst that’s so often associated with the “alternative” label. The mood ranges from ecstatic euphoria to tender sentimentalism. There’s a touch of sadness here and there, as the album offers up a well-rounded range of emotions. My favorite track on this album is probably Dancing In Quicksand, which features those crowdpleasing call outs (a la Huey Lewis’ Heart of Rock’n’Roll) of various cities that listeners love in songs. It’s just catchy and “feels” like a hit. There’s also a lot to be said for the opening track, which is so powerful it can probably make your brain release endorphins. The video also features an inspiring dance audition sequence. Great stuff here as usual.
Xunor Kharu Nelage Muk is a new release from Indian singer/songwriter, IMMI. It’s a cover of a song by famous Assanese artist, Dipali Barthakur. Though I’m not familiar enough with the language to understand any of the lyrics, the music is exquisite, and IMMI’s vocals are stellar. She definitely does this song justice. IMMI’s delivery is dynamic and brimming with enthusiasm. The performance is very lively and puts a vibrant, contemporary spin on this classic jam. Her band “Immi and the Mahoots,” features some awesome guitar and bass players, which add another dimension to the track. While IMMI’s powerful voice drives the action, the backing music provides a spirited, robust framework. The guitars really enhance the emotional intensity, taking things up a notch.
The production quality on Xunor Kharu Nelage Muk is top of the line. This isn’t a “lo-fi” mix. It’s a major label quality recording. Everything shines through with pristine clarity, and the band is using legit gear (as can be seen in much of the footage). Likewise, the video is professionally shot. Though the sets are intimate rather than elaborate, the visuals capture the energy and atmospheric euphoria of the song. The video is exciting because of the musical action taking place and the expressions of the performers. There are no distractions or narratives needed. All in all, this is a solid release, in terms of both audio and visuals. IMMI’s vision brings Xunor Kharu Nelage Muk into the 21st century while retaining the purity of the song.
Faded Destiny is a new single from artist, Danjul. Creatively structured, this synth driven track blends elements of pop and R&B in ways which always keep the listener guessing. The minimalist and haunting intro creates a sense of intrigue. You can tell the song is about to kick in at any moment but aren’t sure if it’s going to be a hip hop jam, pulse pounding EDM song or Castlevania music.
Spoiler: it’s none of the above. Faded Destiny is an ambient indie pop song that’s emotionally expressive and vocally driven. The backing music serves as an atmospheric backdrop for Danjul’s passionate delivery and expressions of romantic longing. That this song is as sentimental as it is comes as a pleasant surprise, since the cover art is fairly enigmatic. Danjul also demonstrates great command of timing throughout, matching his vocal patterns to a beat that’s complex and dynamic. He’s not looking for an easy way out. All in all, this is a solid single that earns a few extra points for originality.
Jungle is the debut album from artist, Kemper Grant. Blending elements of R&B, pop and disco, the songs put a psychedelic twist on contemporary pop. The track Blind features a musical backing that’s exceptionally groovy. I actually really love all the backing instrumentals on this album, which give the atmosphere a naturalist, rainforest vibe. The cover art captures precisely the energy of this recording. As far as the vocals, they are more straightforward, but Kemper’s voice has a pleasant tone and gets the job done. This is a very creative debut, and I feel like Kemper Grant has managed to carve out a unique niche for himself in a crowded genre. Jungle is distinctive and interesting as an album. More importantly though, it will take you to the place in the picture.
Numb is a new single from pop/R&B artist, Jason Biyo. The song is the title track from his upcoming debut album, N.U.M.B. (slated to be released on June 5th). Smooth and melodic, this jam is good old fashioned ’90s-style R&B. In terms of vocals, this guy is no pretender. Most contemporary R&B songs are loaded with auto-tune and buried in processing effects. That’s not the case here. He’s an excellent singer and not afraid to push his voice to its limits. Thematically, Numb strives to be an anthem for people who are trying to make it and constantly being put down or discouraged. Personally, I would never put this artist down or doubt his prospects. He definitely has the skills to make it. Just needs the right connections and a few breaks.
I Just Want to See the Sun Again is a new album from South Carolina-based hip hop artist, Kyle Oashu. This 6-song EP is light, uplifting and brimming with positive vibes. The poppy backbeats often feature a subtle, analog-style tape hiss that could easily double as the sound of the ocean. It really adds some character to the recording. Some tracks incorporate samples and elements of EDM. The sound is extremely bright and colorful, ideal for meditation but still lively enough to dance to. My Grandma Lives in Heaven is a particularly powerful song, both musically and lyrically. Kyle seems to have a gift for writing honest and engaging lyrics. This album is very real and holds nothing back.
Home Sick (PT) is a new single from Seattle-based artist, plzdontclickhere. He’s been making music for several years and recently transitioned from creating dubstep to house music and futures bass. While he claims to currently just make music “for fun,” the songs he puts out demonstrate a fairly advanced skill level as opposed to that of a hobbyist. As one might ascertain from the title, Home Sick (the first single off his new album) is about how the artist misses his hometown of Port Townsend, WA.
Featuring a slick, Beverly Hills Cop style intro and beat, the track quickly asserts itself as a full and lively EDM jam. The vocals are vibrant and emotionally expressive. Despite the subject matter, the vibe of Home Sick is more high octane and energetic than melancholy, as this totally danceable song will actually get you amped up. It’s great to hear a track that’s fueled by pure passion and backed by solid songwriting craftsmanship. The beat is very cool, and the vocals are good enough that they don’t detract from it at all. Lots of excitement here, and this jam is sure to be a club crowd pleaser.
Bad Chick is a new single from Texas born hip hop artist, Hei$enberg. The song actually pays tribute to a certain kind of strong, assertive woman who handles business and doesn’t take crap from anyone. Hei$enberg eloquently (and sometimes with subtle humor) lays out all the reasons why he respects this chick. Set against an eerie synth beat, his delivery is very straightforward, consistently timed and matter of fact. His blunt yet mellow style actually reminds me a bit of vintage Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and other 90s icons. This no-nonsense approach to rap is refreshing in an age where performers employ a lot of smoke and mirrors in their songs and focus on so many other elements, rather than just making a fun catchy jam. Free of such gimmickry,Bad Chick is precisely what it presents itself as, a track paying homage to a badass chick.
Broken Year is the 4th studio album from Pennsylvania based artist, Jake Haze. Blending elements of pop, R&B and hip hop, these songs are smooth and professional. This guy clearly has some legit musical experience under his belt. The backing music is bright and colorful, even as the lyrics explore sentimental realities that aren’t always cheery. The songs often chronicle working class struggles, personal troubles and racial dynamics from the artist’s perspective. These issues are always conveyed with healing in mind as the end game. Broken Year is indeed a full album, featuring 14 distinct tracks, which Jake claims “encompass all human emotions.” One thing is for certain, there’s a real passion detected in this work. It is more heartfelt, substance oriented and expressive than what is typical of this genre. Jake’s delivery is lyrical delivery is relaxed and approachable but still serious in tone. There’s a lot of material here. Broken Year is competent musically and comprehensive in content.
Bye London Bye is a new single from singer/songwriter Matthew Austin Hunt. It’s an acoustic/electric jam that rings through clear as a bell, featuring a bright, clean sound. The recording quality is excellent, really. The song itself is exactly what the title implies, as the artist sings about leaving London and reflects on what he will miss. Of course, he’s not talking about the weather or tourist traps like Big Ben. Rather, this is about a girl he fell in love with “in the streets of London.” His performance is heartfelt and romantic, and the theme is one I can personally relate to, having fallen in love with girls from faraway places more times than I can count. Matthew’s a great singer as well. There’s no autotune or annoying processing on the vocals. Listening to this song, I get the sense this is one of those guys who can pick up an acoustic guitar and perform a song like this without missing a beat. Bye London Bye is minimalist in terms of instrumentation but still has a full sound. This track is quite good.