It’s been a crazy few years for Mr Jack Garratt, who was shoved into the spotlight in 2014 with the release of his first EP, ‘Remnants’. His road to winning Critics Choice at the Brits this year wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies though. Reading his Wikipedia Page is a dismal endeavour, and it’s only until the last paragraph that the guy gets a little bit of slack. From failed Blues albums to a Quarter Life Crisis to a horrifically failed attempt at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest win, this man has lived through a lot of mediocrity. Garratt was certainly not winning at life. He then takes a year out to write (which I love by the way, can I do this?), and BOOM comes out with this crazy debut album ‘Phase’, which was released on February 19th. The phrase “zero to hero” (which I’m pretty sure originates from the Disney film Hercules) seems to apply here. I believe he deserves a hearty pat on the back for his rise from the ashes of his slightly floundering career to the dizzying heights of the BBC1 PLAYLIST! All jokes aside, this man is the talk of the town at the moment and I think his success is pretty well deserved.
When I first listened to, “The Love Your Given”, I shed a tear inside. At first I thought this was James Blake’s much anticipated comeback. This song is chilling to the very core, with a beautiful Banshee-like loop that creates an eeriness over which Garratt croons about unrequited love. The ensuing beats are smooth and silky, whilst Garratt’s wavering falsetto lights up the chorus perfectly. The song slowly and subtly builds to a climax in the form of an angsty, distorted synth sound. Ultimately, it’s like the scene from Game of Thrones, when Melisandre gives birth to a shadow baby. It’s horrific, obscene even, but also strangely fascinating. “The night is dark and full of terrors” should be the tagline for this track.
Full disclosure, there are times in this album when I think Garratt might be just another James Bay, a mediocre copycat who plunders all the most sellable bits of a genre and uses it to create a sappy mess. “Surprise Yourself”, for example, has all the makings of a pop hit and brings nothing new to the table at all. Big fat electric chords, a quiet acoustic guitary bit with whispery singing and the odd harmony. I can definitely think of people that have done this better than him. Another one of these is “Weathered”, which gives me terrible PTSD flashbacks of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”. Just about everything is unimaginative, the chords, the words, the production. Hit the snooze button on this one.
That being said, there are tracks here that have serious freshly picked potential. There are times when he lives up to my thinking he was James Blake. These are times when he sounds like a mash up of Blake, James Vincent McMorrow (second album) and weirdly Flume, the Aussie DJ. Here, Garratt doesn’t just stick to one predictable sound, he switches it up, changes the pace, makes U turns with the sound. “Fire” manages this, building from a reflective, bare sound to a full on electronic cacophony. This then promptly cuts out in favour of a jittery piano, clap and voice echo adventure. The last 30 seconds of this song are amazing. I want to write him a letter and tell him to produce less of the poppy drivel and more of the hardcore electric-synthy-drum-and-bassy madness.
“Synesthesia Pt III” is another triumph, with a flume-esque trip hop vibe. The dreamy sound effects he uses contrast cleverly with the harsher bass sounds. There is also some expert and disconcerting panning that makes the sound jump creepily from ear to ear. Wish that song went on for longer. “Breathe Life” is on the cusp of being annoying but manages to overcome this with its undeniably groovy beat and saucy drum breaks. “Far Cry” is an interesting one and has this section that I believe sounds like Garage music. I’ll probably get told off for misdefining genres (pardon me if I have), but whatever it is flips the dancin’ switch in my mind. This one twists and turns in fun and surprising ways and has some pretty jazzy piano chords in there as well.
But undeniably the giant bejewelled crown of this album, (second only the “The Love You’re Given” obviously), is “Worry”. Not only does it have a sexy, wubby bassline, it also has one of the most singable choruses I’ve heard in a long while. The harmonies in the chorus are subtle but no less alluring. The drums are skilful, at times grooving in the background and at others fiercely enhancing the fullness of the sound with rhythmic hi hat taps and cymbal crashes. The lyrics are also some of Garratt’s most original.
All in all, Garratt has a huge amount of promise. My prediction is that either he sells his soul to the man and rides the wave of Radio 1-style stardom or he goes off on his own, maintaining his artistic integrity, and nourishes the seeds of experimentation that have been planted in this album. Perhaps he will do a James Blake and collaborate with big names, bringing his freshness to a wider audience. Or perhaps he will do a Calvin Harris and lose all his weird, loveable qualities. Who knows, people, who knows. But what we do know is that this guy flies in the face of the expectation that musicians are hot. And for that alone, he has my vote.