“Boring” they said. “Just like James Bay” they said. Really? Are the critics listening to the same Jack Garratt?
It’s understandable to come to that “boring” conclusion listening to just the singles: Breathe Life, Weathered and Worry are Garratt at his most radio friendly, with typical pop structures and catchy chorus hooks. Yet even Garratt at his most basic is less basic than the peers he’s recently unfavourably been compared with. Worry especially is a visceral depiction of post-breakup feelings (“don’t you worry ‘bout it”), lurching from its pensive verse to a self-assured, stomping chorus. It’s a decent, if unremarkable, pop song, as if he suddenly realised he needed a recognisable song to break into the mainstream.
Listening to ‘Phase’ though, Garratt’s debut album, the obvious comparison is with James Blake. Garratt’s sound is far more experimental than his singles would have you believe. Jazz, soul, dubstep and electronica all mingle within minimalist structures, as looped samples blend with processed beats and live guitar. Over the top, Garratt’s vocal oscillates between a cooing falsetto and a rough yet soulful rock tone. It’s quite the concoction, proving that amidst all the comparisons, Garratt is his own man doing his own thing, disregarding influences and genres for something more unique, even if the end result heavily leans in Blake’s direction.
The second half of the album especially delves into weird territory – and is all the better for it. The Love You’re Given is the album’s lengthiest track that epitomises his varying styles, though he’s often best at his most introverted. I Know All What I Do begins as a simple folk tune sung over pedal, before the production slowly layers with harmonies and scuzzy effects; Surprise Yourself contrasts a high falsetto with deep pulsating sub-bass, eventually launching into a final chorus of space age synths and acoustic guitar. And on Chemical and Fire, he pushes his own boundaries towards the electronic end of his spectrum, all womping basslines and skittering beats that make those pop singles a distant memory. Most arresting of all is that the album ends with a piano ballad, where Garratt’s yearning vocal surges with emotional fire.
‘Phase’, then, is consistent in its inconsistency. It straddles the line between mainstream and experimental and likely won’t please both camps, though when the two styles merge Garratt truly proves the hype around his music.
There’s a bigger issue, however. Garratt is a multi-instrumentalist and it’s in live shows where his talents really lie, working like an octopus between keys, sample mixing, guitars and vocals. It certainly puts Ed Sheeran’s loop pedal to shame. Yet that’s almost impossible to capture on a recording. ‘Phase’ is slickly produced and doesn’t quite recreate the raw intensity of his live shows. As enjoyable as the album is, watching Garratt perform is the true way to experience his music. In that sense, with the way the music industry is leaning so heavily on live music at present, perhaps Garratt really is the sound of 2016.
* The Love You’re Given
* I Know All What I do
* Surprise Yourself
Listen: ‘Phase’ is available now.