Words: Josh Fundafunda
Photography: Angela Riccardi
Like many others back in 2017, I keenly kept up with Blonded Radio, a show on Apple Music hosted by none other than Frank Ocean, Vegyn, and Roof Access. At the time, each episode felt like a gold mine of new music that often featured a fresh single from Frank Ocean. These episodes put me on to the likes of Alfa Mist, Karriem Riggins, Vegyn, and most importantly, Mk.gee. Specifically, it was the radio episodes centred around the 2018 Midterm elections in the United States where I first heard him. “You” kicked off part one of the trilogy of episodes and immediately caught my attention with its summery guitar and groovy baseline. The rest of the episode played out in typical Blonded Radio fashion; a song from the then up-and-coming Don Toliver, an on the nose track called “Impeach the President” by The Honey Drippers, and unfortunately no new music from Frank Ocean.
Regardless, “You” left enough of a lasting impression for me to check out the rest of his music. Born Michael Gordon, Mk.gee is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer. He has a lot more going for him than the backing of Frank Ocean, he brings a genuine freshness to his alternative music. His catalogue as Mk.gee is fairly small at the time of writing; three brief albums, an old EP floating around from 2016, and whatever music can be dug up from his previous band, 3 South Benson. Still there is an authenticity to his music, a consistency that runs through each project. It is what excites me most about his music. No matter the direction he goes, no matter what song he produces, there is an unmistakable presence to his work.
His first semi-self-titled album, Pronounced McGee, released May 2018, with more of those same summery sounds. With nine songs just shy of 40 minutes, Mk.gee delivered a timeless debut album, and still a favourite of mine to this day. Each song on this project is a testament to Gordon’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist and composer. It is no small feat to make such an entertaining collection of songs back-to-back.
This whole project will have you wishing you were kicking back somewhere warmer, and I think this is where Gordon is at his best. The aforementioned track “You” is a great example of the bright synths, upbeat drums and Gordon’s signature lead guitar that make this album such a great listen. The same can be said about tracks like “I Know How You Get”, “Anabell”, and my personal favourite, “Priorities”. The infectious baseline is a fun contrast to the lyrics that describe being overwhelmed by the mundane. Gordon describes the frustrating feeling of knowing what you want but not how to get it – “I know how to run / but don’t know how to think things through”.
This kind of poignant lyricism is all over this record, in fact his whole discography. It is nuanced, personal, relatable, and very, very, catchy. In terms of his singing I would not describe Gordon as an out-of-this-world vocalist, but he comes across as confident and effortless. The opening song “If He” has this genius repeating guitar lead that mimics Gordon’s lyrics that call out “Please come home”. It is a trick he uses a lot on this project to great effect, a brilliant example of how much intention he puts into his music. Considering how enjoyable this first project was, I was surprised to find out his next would arrive later that same year.
Fool was Gordon’s next album and released in November of 2018 with much of the same groove as the record before it. It is noticeably slower than his first release but just as well put together. Gordon has a sense of looseness to his instrumentation, not sloppy, but comfortably laid back. I was happy to hear this authenticity had carried onto this project from the last. Just like that project, Gordon is still in the throes of love. On the bonus track “Si”, he struggles to escape the watchful eye of a crush’s strict parents. “Your daughter in my car / But your voice in my ear / Your head outside the door / Been there all year”. The same can be said of the opening song, “New Year”, where Gordon describes returning home to find that someone he loves has not changed. It is a strangely familiar feeling for anyone who has moved, stranger still to return and see you have outgrown home. I said this project was slower, but intimate is probably a more accurate description; even on upbeat tracks like “Drown” or “Wheel”, Gordon keeps the instrumentation dialled down, relying more on synthesisers. The same can be said of the whole project really – synthesisers take a more pronounced role across the whole album. I found that, besides a few songs, this left the album feeling less adequate than his last.
Of the three albums he has put out this is probably my least revisited. It feels just a little too underdeveloped – still working with the summery psych-rock sounds of his last album, but not yet as experimental as his next album would be. It leaves a lot to be desired, feeling more like a collection of leftovers rather than a standalone project. It is a shame as songs like “Num” are really enjoyable and would have fit right in on the project before this one. Thankfully, Gordon took some time in between this and his follow-up album.
A Museum Of Contradiction, released in 2020, was a drastic evolution in Gordon’s sound. From what I recall, people were fairly torn on whether or not they like this new direction, myself included. Considering the cold feeling his last album left me with, it took awhile for this one to grow on me – but it eventually did. Here, Gordon leans much more heavily into lo-fi and experimental production, reminiscent in many ways of his now removed EP 8ams.
The woozy “Intro” sets the stage for a more emotional project before diving into the first song “cz”. This song, which was one of two preliminary singles, made it clear Gordon wanted to step away from the live-performance inspirations of his last two projects (fitting for a Covid Album). The same goes for the instrumental track “>;0”, featuring Vegyn. Mixing Gordons instrumentation with Vegyn’s signature off-kilter house production is not something I would have pictured working together, but the minimalist song is a breath of fresh air on a fairly subdued album.
That is not to say Mk.gee’s lost his groove. “Overtime – pt 1” is full of muted drums and funky baselines, bringing back the warmth that I loved so much from his first project. The song transitions smoothly into the dreamy “Overtime – pt 2”, which brings the pace right back down again. Seamless transitions connect the whole project creating more of a singular listening experience. Unlike his other albums there are notably less standout anthems, replaced instead by a cohesive listening experience. “Western” follows suit; the psychedelic rock influences on this song could fit within a Tame Impala record. It is packed with the bright synths and the existential questions I have come to expect from Mk.gee. It builds and breaks wonderfully, before slowing back down again with the follow-up track “Isn’t It So Convenient”. Having the confidence to follow his gut is what has kept me returning to Mk.gee’s work even when he is not releasing new music.
Gordon is at his best when he follows the whims of his influences. Being part of a growing number of artists who pull from a range of inspirations, Gordon is of the same era as early Brockhampton, Dominic Fike, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Mac Demarco. Whether its old school beach rock, or contemporary house production, Mk.gee has the skill to work it all into his own sound. His solo work is already outstanding and his effortless production keeps me excited for more. To quote Rhys Buchanan “you sense a stardom is looming large here” – and I have to agree. Mk.gee’s artistry is unique, and something I continue to keenly watch going forward.