A swirling mass of glorious genre-bending contradictions.
Jack Garratt at first sight and listen is a swirling mass of contradictions. Aged just 24, he’s the latest recipient of both the BRIT award Critics’ Choice (previously won by Sam Smith, Tom Odell, Emeli Sande, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding, Florence + the Machine, Adele) and the BBC Sound of… (previously won by (Years & Years, Sam Smith, Haim, Michael Kiwanuka, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding, Little Boots, Adele, Mika etc) and he seems to have the blatant mainstream appeal that those acts do along with the slightly off-kilter quirkiness a lot of them also have in spades.
To look at, he’s part hipster, part sweaty rock God. To listen to, he’s angelic white soul falsetto and husky folk busker all in one. This is the man who entered Junior Eurovision but now writes songs which sound like Sam Smith crooning whilst Hot Chip and Metronomy fight over a synthesiser or Foals singing a sea shanty with Artful Dodger.
His self-produced debut album “Phase” suggests the idea of moving through different genres and styles but also of adjustments and synchronisations of the various synths and dials in his crazy production suite. Opening track “Coalesce” (Synesthesia Pt. II) serves as an introduction to what Garratt is capable of, promising to “open up [our] mind” over squelching synths and syncopated percussion. Tracks like “Fire” really show what Garratt is capable of in terms of bending genres and mixing musical influences across an epic 4 minutes. Stand out tracks are the big singles “Breathe Life”, “Worry” and “Weathered” which all sit together on the album’s early stages and are sure to appeal to fans of Plan B, Ed Sheeran and Alex Clare who can similarly produce big, successful tracks which defy categorisation. “Worry” is particularly beautiful, being one of those heartfelt odes to life and love which makes Garratt sound like an old hand at both recording and life in general. I’m reminded of the not-quite-made-it-yet singer songwriter Ryan Keen, who can make soaring ballads like this which just make you feel a little bit happier to be alive on each listen.
At times the synths and crunches all fade and we’re left with a weeping guitar or a jazzy piano solo. The mash ups of styles don’t always gel well (see “Chemical”). Sometimes it feels like the odd track could have been a little more underproduced and is crying out for an acapella version showcasing Garratt’s impressive vocals rather than the insistent lurching cacophony of sound behind it. Not that even that’s a bad thing. Almost each track has its own identity and you don’t easily tire of hearing them across the 12 tracks on the standard edition of the album.
Ending with the tender bluesy ‘end of a long night in a jazz café’ ballad “My House is Your Home”, “Phase” is a triumph of showing what Garratt can accomplish and it will be interesting to see if he continues to produce such diversely bonkers music or settles into one of the many, many channels he shows potential within.