Jack Garratt: Phase review – unrequited love over dubstep stylings


James Bay, winner of last year’s Brit critics’ choice award, casts a long shadow over this year’s anointed, Jack Garratt, and his debut album, Phase – a twitchy, varied record with its trainers in two camps, emoting male pop (a boom genre), and desolate night sounds (ditto).

Bay’s own debut performed none too shabbily last year, selling more copies in the UK than any other released in 2015. On his tail comes Garratt, another hat-wearing young white man from the home counties, operating solo; one who has the added blessing of the BBC Sound of… No 1 spot (Sam Smith and Adele are two previous winners of the debutant double). In the wake of the initial buzz of excitement that greeted Garratt’s first two EPs, there has been a steady trickle of backlash, one culminating in a headline that declared – “Jack Garratt: be prepared for a year of blandness”.

You can’t help but conclude that headlines like these are running a year late, and that Garratt is somehow being forced to pay for the sins of Bay, who really was the most terminally derivative, focus-grouped musician ever to disgrace the black hat. Rarely has the critics’ choice gone to anyone so mocked by actual critics – it is, in fact, an award voted for by music industry insiders.

Now Phase isn’t that bad at all; it certainly isn’t bland. The production, in particular, is dynamic and pin-sharp, in debt to a broad swath of UK night sounds (dubstep, garage) and digital R&B, the early 21st century’s hegemonic sound. Take a track like The Love You’re Given, which hinges on a ghostly, looped coo, some minimal piano chords and Garratt’s falsetto pondering unrequited love. Yes, the karmic debt to James Blake here is such that Garratt will spend the next life as a banana slug, but it’s still a beguiling song. The track gathers intensity, climaxing when a set of drum pads falls down the stairs, flatlining the ghost.

Phase is replete with tortured love songs. But few other new act award-winners are writing lines as arresting as “My love is chemical/Shallow and chauvinistic/It’s an arrogant display,” from the single Chemical – another raw-on-refined tune in which handclaps and an echoey blues resolve into stark, stuttering two-step.

Of course, a few dubstep wub-wubs don’t make a Prince-like bedroom genius, and there are shades of Moby – a 1990s nice boy who could cunningly rearrange sounds – in Garratt’s marriage of rootsy, raw source materials with up-to-date studio sculpture. Throughout, there are overdramatic bids for love like Surprise Yourself whose crescendo could house a double garage. But Garratt has the air of a high-functioning misfit who has, by skill and intent, lucked into the most 2016 vibe of all his competitors. He deserves that Sound of… gong.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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