Jack Peñate’s 2007 debut, Matinée, with its scrappy, jangly indie guitar pop, was a product of its time. Its follow-up, 2009’s Everything Is New, recalibrated the Londoner’s profile to that of a more serious, refined dance-pop artist. Following that record’s acclaim, Peñate took a step back from the limelight, and has spent the past decade learning how to produce music himself.
Indeed, his return on After You showcases Peñate’s own high-end production values (with some help from Paul Epworth, Inflo and Alex Epton). This isn’t a release that bows to zeitgeisty sounds, but instead aims, in somewhat hit-and miss-fashion, at timeless songwriting. The sprawling cosmic delicacy of Loaded Gun feels reminiscent of Bowie; the Beatles are referenced at their most spiritual via slightly eye-roll-inducing sitar on the otherwise sweet Cipralex.
Amid melancholy introspection are propulsive splashes of gospel, glossy strings and sax, plush,airy keys and intricate percussion nodding to jungle and acid house; and a reading of a poem by Mervyn Peake – Peñate’s grandfather – over beautifully ornate piano on Gemini. Broadly speaking, After You succeeds as a rich, expansive set of sophisticated classic pop – but, unlike Peñate’s early work, it feels somewhat irrelevant to 2019.