Magazine Gap – What’s That About? – Album Review
Joyner Lucas actually said it best this year. “I lay a brick at a time for somethin’ I know I can build.”
And to be fair, he’s actually referencing an inspirational quote from Will Smith…the point is that it’s accurate, and it inadvertently describes the journey Magazine Gap has been on to get to their own record at the same time. You could pretty much call What’s That About? a greatest hits album – and the reason it’s like that is because it’s been built on a solid foundation; brick by brick, they’ve built a lineup of songs that house a spectacular dose of true audio entertainment for ya that no wolf would even dare to attempt to blow down. Featuring songs that date back to their Calling Card EP when I first started listening to them in 2016, all the way through various stellar singles they’ve released in sets after that; they’ve got all their classics bundled up nicely together here for ya with a handful of new tunes as well.
So rest assured…the majority of these songs have been road-tested. If you’ve been an avid reader of these pages of ours or a rabid fan of Magazine Gap’s music, you’d know from a glance at the lineup of cuts that form the set-list of What’s That About? is fully stocked & loaded with what you wanna hear. And if you ask me, I’d tell ya this three-piece of stylistic rhythm & groove Pop/Rock went about all this the right way…back in my day, you tested the waters with the EPs & singles and then created one full record you knew you could play from beginning to end without a hiccup or reaching to skip a song. That’s what Magazine Gap has achieved here on What’s That About? – and a result this whole record highlights the many stunning tunes & moves this band has been making over these past several years.
Snazzy start y’all – they serve up a new cut right at the start. “Possibilities” was a great choice to have upfront and a highly enticing vibe to bring the people on into the Magazine Gap sound. If you aren’t familiar with it, you get a dazzling dose of the sparkling music & tight use of space that’s a huge part of their signature sound overall. Seasoned vets of the scene at this point, you can hear how well they interact with each other in the way they play – their insatiable tendencies to use the stop/start dynamic always adds a ton of punch and character into their songs, and “Possibilities” is a solid example of why it all works so well. Fantastic recording on this tune…you can hear it from the lefts to the rights that the detail has been put in, the layers of sounds move as one unified entity, and that tightness you wanna hear in a song of this style is as flawless as you could ever hope to hear. And believe me folks, that’s gonna be the standard you’ll find on What’s That About? – that’s the bar that Magazine Gap has already set for themselves in the past, and clearly through the sound of this new cut in “Possibilities,” they’re sticking to the quality they know their ideas & music deserve. Something about these guys has always had me cheering for them…and I’d imagine that’s the respect I have for the dedication & commitment they bring to their music, aside from being great guys behind the scenes…so believe me, it’s rad to hear them come out swinging so strong right off the bat. Consistently music you can get your groove-on with, decked out with soulful melody and tangible hooks you can’t miss…these guys know what they’re doing and it’s always apparent from the music to the microphone. Magazine Gap is as reliable as it gets.
Having “Superficial” up front in the lineup was another ace-move as far as I’m concerned. It actually wasn’t all that long ago that I reviewed this track as an advance single from What’s That About? – and you can read my full-thoughts from March by clicking here if you like. But here’s the thing…as we like to say around here, context matters – and hearing how “Superficial” serves up such a bright & beautiful spark to the soul & energy of the music on this record at the beginning is an essential contribution and a massive factor in what pulls us in. For those familiar with the song, you get that immediate hit of “RIGHT ON – it’s that song I love” from the moment it starts, and you realize that no matter how much time has or hasn’t passed since you last heard it, “Superficial” is always welcome for another spin. Like c’mon…you hear those hooks in the guitar as this track begins and you’re already hooked, let alone the rest of the awesomeness to follow so closely behind. It was a single-worthy song back in March when I first heard it, and “Superficial” is still a remarkable stand-out here in the lineup of What’s That About?.
Personally, I love getting to spend more time with Magazine Gap’s music. I mean, face facts…you can see by the numbers & stats at our page how much music I end up listening to…and quite often it’s a routine that has me listening to something and onto the next much faster than I’d like to be. Bombarded with a barrage of singles & records that continually come in, it only gets more challenging to circle back around to a lot of what I love to hear…so any excuse to dive back in is always cool with me. Like, hearing James hit the chorus of “For The Ride” with the bold tone he sings it with was such a rad reminder of how strong that moment in time really IS…it’s one of my all-time favorite moments from Keen on the mic…you can hear him summon up the power and punch that first line out with the strength & confidence it deserves, spot-on….and it’s always a highlight, no matter how many times you hear it. The mix of tension, drama, and melody in this tale is exceptional through & through, from the snaps in rhythm to the striking piano notes ringing out, or the way the guitar comes subtly noodling in – everything sounds great, but I gotta give the bonus points to the lyrics & vocals when it comes to what really makes “For The Ride” as gripping as it is. Definitely one of those songs that runs deeper and becomes more addictive the more you listen, it was a great single to start the year & “For The Ride” is certainly an essential asset here on What’s That About?, unquestionably holding its own in this full set.
The title-track comes from way back, originally found on the Calling Card EP from back in 2016. While the rest of that set shows up towards the end of the record, Magazine Gap makes a slick move by moving this cut up earlier on in the lineup. I mean, it IS the title-tune after all…but beyond that, I think there’s a ton to appreciate & latch onto when it comes to “What’s That About?.” First of all…those bendy guitar parts are freakin’ amazing to listen to every time…the pacing of the vocals & melody from the mic is spot-on…and eventually later on, the addition of the trumpet section adds brilliantly to the hooks and the colorful fireworks you’ll find in the finale. I’d probably be lying by omission if I didn’t say it’s those guitar notes that really do it for me on “What’s That About?” – that’s likely the main highlight for me if I had to single out one element – but I’m definitely not complaining about this from any angle. “What’s That About?” is a meaty tune with a lot of depth to it…and it’s one that speaks to the quality & strength in the songwriting & execution of Magazine Gap that they’ve been showing us from day one.
What you’ll love about this record as a longtime listener & fan of the band is how even it all is with the balance in the mix. Magazine Gap has never been the kind of crew to skimp on quality to begin with, but they’ve also clearly ensured to round the corners out in production and make sure everything would fit onto What’s That About? as well, which is ultimately crucial when it comes to the repeat value of any album out there assembled with pieces from the past & present combined. But if you can tell the difference between the songs from the beginning of their journey towards this record and newer cuts like “Kings, Queens & Jokers” or “Possibilities” based on the mix your ears are much better than mine are. To me, they’ve got this whole lineup structured to deliver, and the sound was always right where you’d want it to be; there’d be no reason to doubt the quality of this record at all based on what they’ve already put out there into the world. This is a band that cares about their material; it’s always shown in the end results, and kudos to them all for making it that way. Lyrically, “Kings, Queens & Jokers is all-aces – you can hear the craft in so many of the songs Magazine Gap creates; when you combine that with the fact that this three-piece is certain to never let you down in a single performance, you end up with a catalog of high-quality tunes like they’ve built along the way & now celebrate on this full album. On the bright-side…you gotta figure that they still need a single to put out there to promote the fact that What’s That About? is out there and available (June 5th) – I’d be looking at this cut to fill that role.
But if it’s craft we’re talking about, I’d always be willing to put “In Two Minds” up there with the best of the best that Magazine Gap has created. As to whether or not it was ‘a single’ in the typical sense we all know them to be, that might have been up for debate back in 2017 when this song was first released, but here in the context of a full album, is a track that undeniably adds strength & diversity to the lineup. Really well-written tune and a welcome, sincere, and soulful melody that always hits home; it might not be as flashy or as accessible as some of these other cuts by comparison – but by that same token, the band also flips the script here into much mellower terrain that has its own appeal to it. I suppose what I’m saying is, whether they’re amped-up & energetic, or enveloped within a much more delicate & dreamy sound like you’ll hear on “In Two Minds,” they find all kinds of potential to impress the ears out there listening and make the most of each moment. You get a different dimension of the Magazine Gap sound as they slide smoothly into the sweetness of this song…I can’t imagine there not being a large percentage of listeners & fans out there that don’t completely appreciate what they accomplish here.
You wanna know a fun secret I haven’t let you in on yet? Literally EVERY song I know by Magazine Gap made this record. I know what you’re thinking…you’re doing the math, you’re counting on your fingers, you’re realizing that, in order to DO that, they’d have had to have had an incredible batting average to begin with, lest they’d doom themselves to repeat past mistakes, correct? Well…dear readers, dear friends, that is indeed the case…that’s how hard Magazine Gap has been cracking the bat with their stylistically slick sound every time they’ve come back again with something new. So of course this whole record is stocked full of killer musicianship & memorable songs – have they honestly ever made any other kind? “Ran For Cover” is a solid example of the band firing on all cylinders, with one of the most impeccably balanced cuts combining the strengths of all three members in equal contributions. Overall, Magazine Gap and its players have always clearly been highly respectful of what each member brings to the band…sometimes Alex leads the way on the melody, sometimes it’s James…sometimes Brian is right there to rock steady, sometimes he adds a bit more flair & pieces to the parts he’ll play – but it’s songs like “Ran For Cover” and how even across the board they are in their individual strengths that create the results in their combined effort. Impressive on their own, unstoppable together…these guys are great.
I love what they’ve got going on in “Dancing In Quicksand” – this was a new one for me personally. Definitely one of my favorites on the record for what Alex brings to it, and I’d be willing to bet he’s feeling the same about it – Ho’s keys get a fantastic moment in the spotlight here. Listen to what he’s come up with particularly in the chorus and how it adds this whole like…I dunno…like triumphant or majestic sound to the mix…however you’d describe it, you can hear the uplifting dimension it brings to this song and how it brightens the seriousness of the vibe in the verses. The real bottom line is that “Dancing In Quicksand” really travels somewhere from beginning to end & part-to-part – and that’s beyond the geographical references you’ll hear in the words Keen’s singing – I’m talking about the journey of sound itself. Magazine Gap has loaded this cut with the right punch in the energy of that crucial transition from verse to chorus, and they’ve maximized the potential of this whole song as a result…that’s the kind of switch in sound that takes a moment from good to great without question. All-around, it’d be impossible to complain about “Dancing In Quicksand” – I think Magazine Gap is in full swing and dialed right in to the essence of this subtle jazzy groove-turned-anthemic Rock-song and how to pull off such a wide range of contrasting style & sound with pure professionalism. Keen’s guitars are perfection, Brian’s drums are as stoic & reliable as ever, Alex shines with uniqueness that almost seems to play a secondary role underneath the surface of the main hooks, but he’s really a huge part of why they connect and what makes them work so effectively. I’ll comment a bit more on how unfamiliarity can actually play a significant role in listening to a record like this later on before this review is finished – but for now, suffice it to say that, for myself personally, “Dancing In Quicksand” was a huge highlight.
They take us backwards in time for a trio of songs towards the end of the album with “Snakes & Ladders,” “Body Language,” and “Calling Card” all coming from the 2016 Calling Card EP originally. “Snakes & Ladders” is a great example of how each layer of their music interacts brilliantly – listen to how they’ll switch from a guitar/drums driven verse into a keyboard lead in the chorus – and notice how damn smooth it is. Alex has a real gift for being one of those guys that’s able to discover a melody-within-a-melody…”Snakes & Ladders” speaks strongly on behalf of the kind of insightful layers & depth he adds to the music of Magazine Gap. In hearing “Body Language” again this time around, I thought to myself…like…maybe this song would be right on the fence as whether it makes this lineup…and then I laughed out loud at the thought of leaving it out! Are you kidding me? How on earth could ya? While it might not catch as much attention as some of the others at first…or maybe it might not have quite the high-degree of sparkle & polish as others on What’s That About? in comparison…I mean…can we all still at least acknowledge the fact that, even if this WAS a B-side for them (which it’s not) – it’d be an A-side on any nearly other record out there. “Body Language” still has a vibrantly bouncy & danceable vibe to it that’s definitely classic Magazine Gap in full-effect…and when you listen to how this song starts, you gotta admit, it’d make for a perfect opener to any show playing live. If I’m being entirely honest with ya as well, it’s got some of my favorite guitar moments from Keen where he heads right into a Corgan/Iha like tone that soars overtop of the rest of the tune on into the mix like an afterthought almost; it’s hardly going to be the most defining attribute of “Body Language” for most, but it just might be for me. Finishing off the mini-set from the past, “Calling Card” brings this triple-shot home with a sound that everyone out there can feel, and another highlight display of the impeccable balance between their strengths. Between the bass-lines, the incredible strings & keys…or the perfect way the guitars & drums chime in like they’re all having a freakin’ CONVERSATION between instruments somehow – these elements all chatter & strategize their way to complete victory – “Calling Card” is a guaranteed pleaser.
Having heard as many of these songs as I have over the years prior to the release of this full record, it’s hard to argue against the cuts I didn’t know having some of the strongest appeal to my ears personally in comparison to what I already knew…but I think that experience is likely more unique to myself and the true fans of Magazine Gap than it would be for anyone else just picking up on these guys for the first time. Honestly, if this was your first experience with the band I think you’d be bloody-well beyond stoked at what you’d find in the quality of this lineup from the opening track to the very last. I’m equally stoked – don’t get me wrong – all I’m saying is I listen HARD y’all…the tunes I knew previously never left my mind, because Magazine Gap has always delivered supreme quality & memorable hooks; so it’s in hearing the songs I didn’t know, like “Dancing In Quicksand,” or “Possibilities” as the record began – or especially the magnificent cut called “Jericho” at the very end…not having heard any of these prior always made these parts of this album all-new for me & refreshed the rest of the experience as a result. In some ways…hard to put your finger on type-ways…”Jericho” sounds like another evolution of the Magazine Gap sound on display right before this whole experience is over…almost like a hint of what’s to come in the future, or at the very least, a supremely soulful nod to just how much more in the tank they’ve still got. Because call me crazy if you like, I think they ended this album on one of their strongest cuts – I think Keen is off-the-charts fantastic with how he sings this song, the musicianship is diverse, colorful, jazzy, and wildly enticing from beginning to end…and in particular, when you hear James rip through the chorus and the instrumentation takes over as he exits, it’s like one highlight after another. There’s a fierceness to “Jericho” that no other tune on this record quite has…and whatever that is, whatever is causing it…I don’t even know if it matters…just keep bringing this on Magazine Gap – this was a powerful ending to what’s been an indelible lineup of songs surely to be enjoyed by everyone.
Make sure to find out more about Magazine Gap at their official homepage at: http://magazinegap.com
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