Review by Anna Murphy
Jack Garratt’s debut album, Phase, dropped this past week, and with it came an eclectic and innovative portrait of the 24 year-old’s demonstrated musical vision. An impressive 19 songs in length, Phase provides a holistic picture of Garratt as an artist. The record contains a wide array of material, from singles like “Worry” that have been floating around British airwaves for over a year, to acoustic numbers like “Water,” which Garratt first showed off during his 2015 tour with Mumford and Sons. Although Garratt is relatively unknown in the United States, Phase was an anticipated and well-received album in his home country, peaking at number three in the UK charts upon its debut. So what does the young Brit bring to the music scene outside of his country? Well, it’s kind of hard to say.
With elements of techno-laced indie pop, R&B, and blues, and a track with clear Celtic influence (“I Know All That I Do”), the genre of Phase isn’t apparent on first, or tenth, listen. But, if the album demonstrates anything, it’s Garratt’s versatility. Each track is purposefully and dynamically constructed to display Garratt’s affinity for piano, guitar, drums, production, and, most importantly, vocals. Yet, for the same reasons that Phase establishes Garratt’s wide skill set, it raises the question of his purpose, or where the new artist is trying to establish himself in a music world that is more diverse than ever.
One of the challenges Phase faces is its length. As a result, the first side of the album is both energetic and thought provoking, while the second comes across as slightly repetitive. The album starts out on a strange, but strong note. “Coalesce (Synthesia Pt II)” sets the tone of album with a lyrically-sparse but musically powerful track. The song also can be seen as a reflection of Garratt’s overall contribution to the world of high production; he seems to push the bravado of the music production and effects to just the right level.
Phase then takes a sharp turn away from the established indie-electro sound of “Coalesce,” and the rest of the first seven tracks, with “I Know All What I Do.” The song wouldn’t sound out of place on an album of Celtic music; Garratt’s signature falsetto vanishes and the track is stripped down to a simple ballad. But, as the following track “Surprise Yourself” reveals, “I Know All What I Do” offers less of a change in direction and more of a momentary pause from the previous pieces. This pause, while unexpected and not entirely fitting with the progression of the album’s narrative, is actually refreshing. “I Know All What I Do” almost functions as a reminder that the production of Garratt’s other tracks are creative choices and not attempts to disguise a lack of authentic talent. It also shows off his lyrics for the first time, something that is noticeably lacking in many of the earlier tracks.
Phase reaches another high point on “Chemical”. While filled with production and power, the track begins to break down the defining qualities of Garratt’s album: each song draws from influences and dips into a range of genres, but it does so in a way that is purposefully different.
The second half of the album--especially in contrast to the diversity and sheer quantity of content that precedes it--comes across almost as an afterthought. While tracks like “Water” and “Remnants” would likely appear more compelling if they were placed five spots earlier on the album, they feel a little ordinary compared to the twists and turns of the first half of Phase.
Like the three parts of “Synesthesia”—scattered across the LP and listed seemingly randomly— Phase is a bit all over the place. But despite the lack of cohesion, it does accomplish a lot, and the diversity of the album may also be the trick to keeping the listener interested across almost all of the 19 tracks. Phase is reflective of the kind of artist Garratt is trying to convey himself as, and my initial reaction brings genres of indie-pop, electronica, and blues to mind. Upon deeper listening, these genres begin to function as creative lenses through which Garratt shows some of the best things he has to offer: a wonderful instrumental presence and an authentic and captivating voice. Due to popular reception, and genuine interest and quality, Garratt’s album exhibits the beginning of what looks like a promising career. And so, unlike his album title, Jack Garratt looks less like a phase and more like an artist here to stay.