Light & Shade, recorded over a globe-trotting 18-month period that incorporated London, Houston, L.A. and New Orleans, is an eclectic snap-shot of the cosmopolitan Magazine Gap; an all-embracing collective, bringing together and blending their individual and wide-ranging styles in unison. Beautiful musicianship, intricate rhythms - this is meticulously layered, carefully crafted songs from a group of musicians who know their mark, and how to hit it each and every time.
Through the myriad of colours and tones, the recurring and dominating sound is that of a pop-rock nature, with an unmistakably Mid-West tinge to it. For instance, through bars of the excellent Silver Lining blows the air of Counting Crows-esque Americana - the trebly acoustic guitar, the tight, bright militaristic snare, the light keys. Though while the folk/rock/pop melodies are evident, the rhythms and percussions have a jazz-influenced edge, which dovetails with the improvisational keys to bring in all the elements of the band’s varying influences. The dynamic control displayed confirms a band in full masterful command of their music.
Our Last Stand would slip effortlessly onto BBC Radio 2’s Drive Time, as would most of the album; the wonderfully subtle Inside The Bubble, the velvety Swansong and the exquisite, stripped-back beauty of Slipstream.
The wayfaring nature of the album’s recording process is evident in the overall ambience of the collective piece – different cities, different session musicians, different producers and engineers all contribute to this. Pedal steel guitars, violas and saxophones are just a sample of the vast array of instrumentation going on within these tracks. These are thoughtful musical arrangements in full bloom; every sonic space filled out, in a measured, methodical manner, by the virtuoso players. The spearhead of this swirl of lush musicianship is the vocals of James Keen – a cultured, consummate voice that sounds instantly familiar yet distinctive enough to stand on its own. (A sentiment which sums up the entire band, in fact.)
The lyrics, predominantly in first-person narrative, animate and enliven the tracks, while the accomplished vocal lines suggest a genuine natural talent for melody from vocalist Keen.
Light and Shade showcases a skilful, refined band at the top of their A-Game and captured in crystal high-fidelity clarity through the deft, sharp production. The finished article is simply something to sit back and admire whatever your musical tastes.