Jack Garratt, multi-talented writer, producer, and performer, first caught my eye through the promoting powers of BBC Introducing staging him at Reading 2014, Future Festival, and SXSW 2015. My respectful recognition quickly turned into adoration when he came down to Exeter in May. It was the day before an exam but that did nothing to deter me from witnessing nothing short of a music spectacle. His seamless interchanges between guitar, drums, synths, and piano and his simultaneous captivating singing prove his strong commitment to and discipline in his art. As a result his debut Phase is one my most heavily anticipated albums this year.
What makes Garratt so appealing is his uniqueness and passion he brings to his new music. Garratt’s live performances consistently blend inspiring EDM synths, bluesy-soulful R&B vocals, cutting drum beats, smooth piano, and the odd solo (be it guitar or drum complete with bass face). In total, we get an experimental style that is unpredictable, creative and challenging instrumentally and rhythmically yet remains agreeable to the ear.
In a packed 2015, Garratt has won BBC Sound of 2016, BBC Introducing New Artist of the Year and Brit Awards Critics Choice Awards, supported the recent Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road tour and even led a tour of his own. All these events in such a short period of time are a result of Jack’s two interesting EPs, Remnants and Synesthesiac. These projects primarily tackled the theme of unhealthy human impulses and obsessions that haunt relationships, a topic he has brought forward strongly to define the album.
Phase starts very strongly with the gradual build-up of Garratt’s intro track Coalesce, which takes control and explodes with the promises to “open up your mind”. This track, misleading and unexpected does a fantastic job showcasing Garratt’s greatest electronica talents with roaring sub-bass textures. The deep, dark, distorted tone contrasts but transitions surprisingly well into Breathe Life, the most poppy, feel good track on the album. It is when we get to the fourth track, Weathered, that Garratt’s form starts to dip for what is by far his least inspiring pieces. This track extracts too much from other artists such as King Charles and Ed Sheeran and defeats the whole point of the album’s pioneering self-genre that Garratt otherwise supplies. Where Breathe Life was able to strike a balance, Weathered gives in too much.
However, after this blip, the album mostly returns to its alternative electronic R&B routes and sails down a melancholic channel as it delves further into the concerned subject matters of self-identity and emotion. Cynics suggest that Garratt himself gets lost in his writing and his lyrical overstatements that are so intense and unbelievable that they become meaningless and generic. This is repeatedly exemplified where almost every song puts love on a pedestal and champions it as a life or death situation. Garratt hides some of his meaning under his misdirecting, powerful soundscapes in the songs The Love You’re Given, Fire, and Far Cry (each spectacular under that special Garratt sound). Yet if you read his lyrics, the nearly creepy over-devotion can be seen in lines like “If you [don’t] take the love you’re given / I will stay as your ghost”, “To love you takes every waking thought I have” and “Give me something I can’t be without / I really want you”.
However, from my interpretation these hyper sensitive observations are actually self-critical. He reassures us that these distressing moments and thoughts are just a ‘phase’ to look back on once the experience is through. Listeners who recognize their irrational, unhealthy obsessions – or those who are still fuelled by passion, fear, jealousy and infatuation – can identify with this musical world of extremities. This is best seen in the absolute belter that is Chemical, which honestly critiques: “My love is overdone, selfish and domineering / Powerful, ruthless and unforgiving / It won’t think beyond itself, so don’t try to reason [with it]”. The development between depressive and aggressive tones in this song further symbolises Garratt’s polarizing emotions. Garratt invites us to instead look inwards, self-reflect, and accept imperfections with gospel-inspired Surprise Yourself.
Penultimate track Synesthesia PT. III, which includes glitches from the exciting Coalesce, displays the shift from confidence to near helplessness, which finishes the album. Final track My House Is Your Home feels close to defeated. Although the live piano piece is stripped back and sonically less exciting, lyrically it is a significant conclusion and realisation and acceptance of Garratt’s emotional but very human faults we share. This is better addressed earlier in the album in the abstract I Know All What I Do, which charms listeners with an almost hymnal ballad over murmured synths – an unexpected addition proving that Garratt is still capable of many surprises.
Garratt hasn’t quite honed his exciting live performances into this album successfully, but he has certainly made a valiant effort. This album motivates, descends and successfully readdresses much of the topics explored in previous work. It would however be even more stimulating for Garratt to tackle a wider range of issues. Many fans will also be mourning the lack of guitar in this album, especially in Worry which is still good but lacks the inventiveness that you can rediscover live in concert. This debut may be missing a few things here and there but generally leaves me incredibly excited for what may come next for Garratt and I am certainly interested in what will come in phase two of his career.