The last year has been a whirlwind for Jack Garratt. The multi-instrumentalist from Buckinghamshire has been heralded as the BBC’s Introducing Artist of the Year, and since their Sound of 2016. He even won this year’s BRITs Critics’ Choice, following in the gargantuan footsteps of artists such as Ellie Goulding, Adele and last year’s winner, James Bay. With the monumental buzz surrounding the eventual release of his debut album, Phase, the main question is this: has he managed to get it right?
For the most part, the answer is a resounding yes. Phase combines everything we love about him: seamless mixing of genres ranging from gospel to electronica, gorgeously smooth falsetto and powerfully deep lyrics of love and relationships that resound for a long time after the first listen. The album is cleverly handcrafted to show off every facet of Garratt’s nature as a musician, each track being an illustration of a different strand of his inspiration and creativity. We are already partially familiar with these facets, with EP tracks ‘Worry’, ‘Weathered’, ‘The Love You’re Given’ and ‘Chemical’ sitting comfortably within the track-listing without feeling like we’ve been left without much new material. In fact, included alongside previously unheard tracks, each seem to regain a new freshness upon listening to the LP as a whole.
Phase is an album of two halves, with the first being much stronger and as cohesive as Garratt can muster. Opener ‘Coalesce (Synesthesia Pt. II)’ causes an immediate stir, launching into business with a heavy and almost startling synth drop as he exclaims, ‘I hope you take my innocence every night / rebuild it with time / but first I’ll open up your mind / and coalesce with mine’. This sets the listener up well for majorly popular and excellently produced single ‘Breathe Life’, one of the best examples of when Garratt’s unique ‘mish-mashing’ of genres works absolutely perfectly. ‘Far Cry’ is a wonder, showcasing what sounds like a James Blake-influenced inventive blend of piano and drum machine beats that cut and drop before you even realise they’re going to – while this choppiness is something that may at times feel a bit impatient and sloppy, on this track in particular, it keeps the listener focused and hooked on every note. Two of Garratt’s most acclaimed tracks, ‘Worry’ and ‘Weathered’, both of them again featuring a mixture of genres and even including a gospel choir, follow this suit and by the time we reach ‘The Love You’re Given’, we’ve already been through the ringer a fair bit. However, it’s worth every second just to hear what he may have in store next, especially knowing that the production is pretty much all down to him and him alone.
The thing most notable about an artist like Jack Garratt is that although he is a particularly innovative artist, he almost attempts to straddle too much in one go. While the production of ‘Far Cry’ works really well, this isn’t necessarily the case when we’re given our first proper taste of balladry in the form of ‘I Know All What I Do’. For one, it isn’t as original a piece of music as many of the other tracks on Phase and sounds like it could easily be plucked from Ed Sheeran’s latest batch of remixed singles. While the lyrics and soothing vocals from Garratt bring a beautiful warmth to this folk-tinged track, the constant electronic drone in the background eventually becomes a tad too grating and ruins the overall vibe of a song that was so close to treading the line the rest of Phase does up until now. ‘Surprise Yourself’ is a song that is rooted in being yourself and staying true to your own spirit, and while the song eventually grows into its pulsating beat, surprisingly the chorus is one of the most forgettable on the record (no matter how much falsetto he pulls out the bag to help the cause).
The second half of the album is momentarily saved by thundering gem ‘Chemical’, which injects momentum back into Phase with Garratt showcasing once again just what a whiz at production he truly is. Latest single ‘Fire’ continues to lift the mood, elements layering upon one another to build into a wonderfully dark crescendo of sound, with intricate lyrics: ‘But I can feel the warmth from your heart / To fight a fire with fire will make the darkness depart / So come a little closer and end my melody’. These two tracks further show his development as a musician as well as his startling versatility and depth as a songwriter, with ‘Synesthesia Pt. III’ acting almost as a palate cleanser (it doesn’t do much else besides) before the album’s final track, ‘My House Is Your Home’. While many may see this closer to the album as an anticlimax, what with it being a five minute ballad performed humbly on piano, for me it is simply greater proof of his incredible artistry: after an 11-track exploration of genre and ultimately, of purpose, Garratt strips it all bare and leaves everything else he has for us on the table for all to see. It’s a vulnerable ending, perhaps even quite a daring one, and makes sure Phase ends on a gorgeously positive and loving note.
For an artist who has so much hype surrounding him, Jack Garratt seems to have just about managed to prove those critics right and although not a completely perfect package, Phase remains strong enough throughout to pack a punch: it’s sure to set fire to the charts in no time.
[Originally written for Redbrick Music]