When the opportunity arose to review Nicholas James Murphy’s debut LP as Chet Faker, I jumped at the chance to get to grips with the music of a brilliant, up-and-coming musician who I’d been following since around this time last year. Since the release of his Thinking In Textures EP a few years back, Murphy has gone from musical strength to strength, emerging as a both a capable singer-songwriter and a gifted producer and multi-instrumentalist; both these talents are showcased throughout latest release, Built On Glass.
Probably the standout moment of the album, certainly for me and I would guess, the vast majority of listeners, will be the fourth track, and Murphy’s only collaboration – Melt. Like the majority of songs on the release, Murphy builds the track around an electric-piano driven, R&B ballad form that brings to mind D’Angelo or Robert Glasper tunes like Brown Sugar or Afro Blue. However the route Chet Faker takes tends towards the sparse electronica of recent Bonobo recordings or The xx, rather than contemporary jazz or Glasper’s neo-soul. Certainly Murphy appears just as at home in front of an 808 as in front of a keyboard, lending tracks like Melt a distinctly hip-hop flair and providing a platform for Chet Faker’s soulful monotone to complement the crystal clear Kilo Kish. The two vocalists trade verses rich with the visceral imagery of a substance-fuelled love-affair gone-wrong, incorporating very different approaches to phrasing and rhyme that further the sense of disconnection and withdrawal that the lyrics communicate.
I didn’t mean / to let it get this far, I’m playing hard to get / you’re playing your guitar.
Other notables include album opener, Release Your Problems, again showcasing Murphy’s skill at the keys, alongside his ability to build beautiful harmonies amid layers of backing vocals. Gold features a slightly faster rhythm and heavier bassline, with Murphy’s vocals carrying a hint of Joe Newman’s accented performance on Alt-J’s Breezeblocks. The long (5:46) instrumental track, Lesson In Patience, is another interesting experiment in production, with Murphy layering vocal loops, claps, snare hits, and baritone sax stabs to build a beat that transforms itself into a fluid piano solo three minutes in.
Verdict: a great listen, and a must for fans of Faker, Bon Iver, Alt-J, The xx, and a whole host of related musicians and genres that would take far too much time to fully unravel. This is certainly an album that I’ll be listening to for a long while to come.