When I reviewed Gagner’s Hummingbird Heart in 2019, I characterized the music within as “intimate and melancholy,” and noted the Midwestern character to the material. When I covered his 2021 release BloodMoon, I used the word melancholy again, and praised the album’s variety. Now in 2013 Gagner returns with Reverse, an 11-song set recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. While there, Gagner wisely enlisted the help of Nick Frater; when his name appears, it’s a trademark of quality.
The music on Reverse calls to mind a less slick Coldplay, using classic keyboard textures to reveal a contemplative, meditative quality that gives the music a dreamy feel even when it’s upbeat. Creamy vocal harmonies adorn Gagner’s soundscapes, and a strong pop sensibility informs the material. Inspired touches like a horn break (instead of a guitar solo) on “Friend Like You” showcase Gagner’s subtlety and taste.
The bouncy ‘My Glasses” is remisncent of ELO’s “Mr. Bglue Sky” but with a more intimate character. Listeners who appreciate the finely wrought arragement of mid- to late-period 10cc will enjoy the vibe of Gagner’s songcraft. And while it’s not his default approach, Gagner can rock: he does just that on the propulsive “Sunless Saturday,” adding more great vocal harmonies and some understated but highly effective synthesizer work.
That melancholy word still applies to Gagner’s craft: “Jesus in Reverse” is a spot-on soundtrack for a misty, moody day. He wears his heart on his sleeve with “Christine McVie, a nice song with an arrangement that sound exactly like a Rumours outtake. Remove his vocal track and it could fool most anyone into believing it’s an unheard rough mix form the giants of soft-pop easy-listening ‘70s music.
The album’s outlier is “There Was a House Here,” with a vaguely menacing vocal character and an insistent electronica-inflected rhythm. It sounds like nothing else on Reverse. Listeners will either be impressed by the ease with which Gagner shifts styles, or unnerved by its out-of-placeness. More in character is the lovely “Goodbye,” built around a soft yet impassioned vocal and crystalline piano.
Reverse concludes on a strong note with “Footprints,” a song that brings together all of the artist’s strengths into a single tune. Gagner’s skill at crafting catchy arrangements with just the right sonic details makes his latest release another in an unbroken string of pop delights.