As I'm sure our readers are well aware of now, I'm a sucker for some sappy shit. Give me an album with three instruments and a souped-up chorus pedal, a song or two with something about "baby, treat me right," and a singer whose voice is just a little fucked up and odds are good I'll give it a 10/10. Better yet, throw some real ambient notes and a few of those seemingly random noises in the background to fill that space between four stretched jazz chords and I'm hooked. That's part of why I love Dijon's Absolutely so much; while the record still feels stripped down and intimate as if they're recording it right in your living room, with each new listen there's a new layer of nuance and genius production to peel back revealing a greater level of complexity that further enhances the listening experience. Not to mention, Dijon is a damn good performer with a golden note and an edge for innovation. But as much as I'd love to sit and gush about why I love him and his music, we're actually here to talk about his producer.
Michael Todd Gordon, best known by his stage name Mk.gee, is a singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Linwood, NJ. He's been playing music since his early childhood, when he took interest in the piano. He picked up guitar in middle school and continued playing music into high school before realizing that he preferred a little more creative freedom, ultimately deciding to become a solo project. Since the release of his debut single "I Know How You Get" in 2017, which was included on his 2018 debut EP Pronounced McGee, Mk.gee has put out another EP, a mixtape, and has stacked up a number of writing and production credits for artists like Drake, Omar Apollo, and The Kid Laroi, and produced several tracks on Dijon's Absolutely.
Now six years since his first official single, Mk.gee released his debut album, Two Star & The Dream Police, on Thursday, February 8; a sprawling, crunchy piece of indie pop music with a studio rock flavor. The record runs relatively short, covering a little over 30 minutes in just 12 tracks, but leaves quite the haunting impression, strolling wildly through themes of regret, redintegration and escapism. We follow a cast of recurring characters throughout the duration of the album's main narrative, our main character and two love interests, Rylee, the assumed current partner, and Candy, a wild-card new flame that threatens to saw through our main character and Rylee's already strained relationship. They fight, they make up, temptation and frustration causes our main character to very nearly make a mistake he'd regret for a long time (or maybe he does act on those feelings...), only to be met with disappointment and more of the same at home once again. Without the strength to carry on or to make a change, he ultimately chooses not to leave the relationship and withdraws emotionally. Without the "Dream Police" around to intervene, the cycle begins again at a "New Low."
Mk.gee's is one of the industry's most fashion forward examples of modern experimental pop and R&B. In the these short few years, he has cemented and expanded upon his trademark style of atmospheric, muddy production, Dijon's "Noah's Highlight Reel" being a shining example of that. Co-produced and co-written by Mk.gee and Dijon, "Noah's Highlight Reel" is as distinct as it is beautiful, and features bass and synth from Mk.gee, guitar and clarinet from Dijon, and original vocals and lyrics from friend and frequent collaborator, Noah Le Gros. This song in particular feels flavored by Mk.gee's unique touch, and like several of the other tracks he produced for Absolutely (which you'll watch right below if you're brave enough), is easily discerned by his use of rousing yet conservative bass lines and white synth noise or TV static in the background of his songs, the use of which morphs and folds each layer of the song's instrumental in on itself to form a sonic amalgamation that sounds both physically raw and meticulously polished, while still highlighting each instrument and vocal layer in the song as it's own identifiable performance.
Two Star & The Dream Police, however, is a welcome reminder that Mk.gee is as talented an artist as he is a producer. While in certain aspects it's by no means his most adventurous or risky album, it more than excels in it's storytelling and instrumentality; both of which seem to work against and with each other, competing for your attention while bolstering the other's impact from song to song. Tracks like "Rylee & I" and "Alesis" benefit the most from Mk.gee's balance of extreme vocal performance and deceivingly simple production, allowing the belted vocals in both songs to lead the way for the guitar and synth combinations, while the instrumental swells and syncopates to compliment gruff line delivery. His use of empty space and simple atmospheric synth and bass also work in sync with the drum and vocal sections to make songs like "DNM" and "Are You Looking Up" crash down harder than a bear on ice on his signature short bridges and once again single out and drive home the lyrical content. Not to mention Mk.gee's ridiculous flair the non-traditional guitar solo. Every single line gets a solo or brutally melancholy riff, each with a classic blues rock twinge to it, but each solo is also guided and glued to the nu-pop pocket on which the album insists on identifying itself.
Within the confines of an experimental indie R&B solo project, Two Star & The Dream Police swings out as a welcome change in what bedroom pop and experimental music can and could sound like going forward. While Mk.gee had chops and high-profile credits before his albums' release, some of which he'll most likely become known for with the passage of time, Two Star is a clear step into the limelight that could very well secure his position and legacy as a leading innovator in music production, as well as a worthwhile addition and frequent flyer on any hopeless romantic's make-out playlist. Among January and the year's releases so far, Two Star & The Dream Police stands out as a a personal Album of the Year contender, and I excitedly and expectantly await his next high-profile production job and next solo body of work.