“Phase” is the debut album from Buckinghamshire born singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist Jack Garratt.
Garratt won the BBC Sound of 2016 and has released a number of songs over the last year (and an EP) which gained much acclaim. The hype had certainly been pushed into overdrive and Garratt decided to drop his debut set at midnight on 19th February (the day of this review).
The album for me is of an artist brimming with ideas and new takes on Indie, EDM, R&B and even Folk music. He has been unfairly labelled as “The New Ed Sheeran” which is a lazy comparison as whilst they are singer/songwriters the comparisons soon end there. If you were going to go through influences on this album you would look more towards James Blake and Jamie Woon as suitable comparative artists.
But Garratt will not want to be compared to anyone and will want his own style to shine through. The trouble is his own style is difficult to distinguish given the lack of direct “Phase” seems to take. It is one of those albums that when it is good it is outstanding but the bad track will leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth that can even tarnish your enjoyment of some of the excellent and creative ideas he produces.
The album kicks off with Colesce (Synesthesia Pt. II) which is a very moody and dark number which many of the tracks off “Phase” are. This is a deep electronic opener which Garratt shows a number of aspects of his vocal.
“Breathe Life” is the second track and its absolutely phenomenal. This is the track I knew from Jack Garratt a while back having seen the video and I thought it was stupendous then and I have not altered in that mindset. Everything about the song works and it provides the best Pop song on the album with it’s catchy and friendly hook.
Whilst a number of tracks on the album suffer from Garratt not being able to bring together all the styles he wishes to incorporate this is not the case on “Breathe Life” which remains dark and serious but the piano that can be heard in the chorus bumps the song further into the creative spectrum as it softens the track without taking anything away from it.
“Oh, won’t you breathe life into these dead lungs I keep under my coat
And keep life warm against the cold night as our bodies grow old”
“Far Cry” continues with the piano driving the track forward as it begins it’s slow build up into a trip hop soulful number which is similar to those on Jamie Woon’s debut album “Mirrorwriting”. The track develops into a more danceable track for a moment and sometimes sounds as if you are listening to different tracks. At one point I thought I had accidentally skipped onto the next track. “Far Cry” has a UK Garage moment and feels very much a British sounding song.
Earlier on I mentioned that the Ed Sheeran comparison was lazy but if you have heard the next track “Weathered” then I could perhaps see where you were coming from. I’m not entirely backing down as we cannot say any guitar bases folky song is simply a copy of Ed Sheeran I can see the path a mind would follow to get to this point of thinking.
“Weathered” is a more heartfelt track which seems out of place on an album which is largely made up of songs with deep moody electronic music as it’s core thesis.
The song seems to be about someone who knows they are dying and that he is telling his loved one not to be consumed by his death.
“Worry” is more R&B influenced with a mellow verse and bigger chorus which will no doubt have you nodding your head and humming along.
Its a soulful and shows another side to Garratt’s singing ability. This song is about a relationship that has ended which sees one party struggling to let go whilst the other seemingly has moved on.
Pick apart the pieces you left
Don’t you worry about it, don’t you worry about it
Try and give yourself some rest
And let me worry about it, let me worry about it
“The Love You’re Given” has this sort of howl in the background that sounds as if it has been sampled from a song from the 1920’s. It gives the song atmosphere and is an etheral masterpiece in this writers opinion. His soulful D’Angelo-esq vocal makes this track a real winner and certainly the best of all the downbeat songs on this set.
“I Know what to do” is as dreary as it gets. The song take almost 2 minutes to fully get going but after the wait we are left with a minute of anti climax. It is so very dull and when you have other songs on here which see Garratt almost as the pioneer of new music for 2016 this is such a horrible step back. Avoid.
“Surprise Yourself” is a decent track which is quite sweet. The trouble is the theme of the lyrics as so done and just make for tired listening. Songs telling us how we should be happy and content with our lives. But it’s a song with a good heart and will appeal to many.
“Chemical” is superb. Again it’s got all these influences in Garratt’s life just pouring out into the music. This song will gain criticism for sounding messy but I believe there is a method to the noise and sonic madness that Garratt has created. This Dubstep, 2 step bonanza where Garratt is really delving into the EDM scene and hitting the more urban sounds of UK music. Accessible? No. Compelling? Yes.
“Fire” is much more easier on the ears and keeps the Dubstep feel flowing through it. Garratt loves to break things down in his verses so you can hear the initial lyrics and then he will hit you with some sound that he has stumbled upon. This song is the absolute example of this and it really works. I love the garage to dub step moments it has. The musicianship has to be applauded as he does a wonderful job. Its a trifle of sounds that just transport you into another world.
“Synesthesia Pt III” comes next and is essentially 2 minutes of repetitiveness in terms of music and lyrics. The backing vocals which have been over dubbed are probably the most interesting thing about this filler track which smooth groove is interrupted by this horrible electronic sound which has me reaching for the skip button.
“My House Is Your Home” is the final track on “Phase”. It sounds as if it was done in one take as it has a raw feel and a very minimal structure. The lyrics are a little serious and over the top. It is almost as if someone has had too many drinks, stumbled into a bar, got on the piano and started to sing the blues with lyrics as meaningful as possible yet coming across pretentious and insincere.
The piano is off key and Garratt is waling his way through to the end. Such an odd song to be placed on such an album.
Many tipped Garratt to be the star of 2016 and whilst I believe he is extremely talented I leave this album with little knowledge of the direction he is taking. It could be that the last few years have spawned different ideas and different themes that have manifested themselves into songs that he just wanted to put the last few years of his life onto an album which I get but when you have moments of creative genius followed by almost rough cuts it leaves me feeling a bit cold.
“Breathe Life” “Far Cry” “Worry” and “Fire” are magnificently crafted songs and Garratt has the ability to make these atmospheric yet accessible tracks that can set a tone and vibe expertly. I look forward to hearing more from the 24 years old musician in the future but for now I’ll say this album is a decent effort, but perhaps he has tried too hard to please everyone.