The Magic Gang‘s 2018 debut album was born out of the simplest of pleasures. Over Beach Boys– and Beatles-inspired tunes, they sang of love and loss in wide-ranging, universal terms that showed their songwriting prowess even as they struggled to carve a niche. As the band’s Angus Taylor has admitted, that self-titled debut album was “12 love songs”.
Second time around, on the ambitious and exquisite ‘Death Of The Party’, it feels like the Brighton four-piece have cast their net wider, pulling in influences from Motown, classic rock and beyond.
Where previously the band landed on the optimistic side of any given situation, here they lean into sadness and confusion, too. The string-assisted ‘Make A Sound’, which features minor chords you wouldn’t find anywhere near the band’s debut, sees vocalist Jack Kaye ruminating on a difficult night out. Of hearing an argument in the distance at a house party, he sings: “I hope it’s not my friends / ‘Cause that could fuck up a good night.”
On the album’s title track, Kaye’s co-frontman Kristian Smith gives his own take on the same night out, New Year’s Eve 2018. The pair wrote their respective ruminations on the evening without telling each other, and it’s just one example of the brilliant chemistry between the four-piece that fills every space on ‘Death Of The Party’. Smith’s song, a rueful slow-dance, sees him singing: “Better work on my partying technique,” before christening himself the titular “death of the party” and concluding: “I should never return.”
As well as treading grittier lyrical ground that makes them more relatable, ‘Death Of The Party’ represents a musical step forward for the band. In the vein of ‘Make A Sound’, sweeping strings punctuate many of the songs here, fleshing out their songwriting chops.
Opener ‘Think’ is a pop-rock stormer, the horns and call-and-response vocals of its huge chorus possessing an unlikely Broadway flair, while recent single ‘Take Back The Track’ is a joyous, group vocal-assisted beauty. Lyrically, it recalls Kaye loving a Sister Sledge song so much at a club night that he repeatedly asked the DJ to rewind and start again.
Here The Magic Gang have acted on pure instinct and feeling. This is an album that, despite its recognition of the downside of things, ends up as a more reassuring – and more real – listen than their debut. With its collage of genres and refusal to co-opt modern trends, album two finds the band moving towards something timeless.
Release date: August 28
Record label: Warner Records