Jack Garratt, with his debut album Phase, proved himself to be the epitome of a ‘solo artist’. Writing, performing and producing everything on his debut album; the successes of the EDM-pop virtuoso struck a chord with the world. After a sold-out UK tour and a successfully-selling debut, Garratt returns with his second album Love, Death & Dancing after releasing EPs of singles in ‘phases’.
An album “for anyone – who likes dancing but doesn’t necessarily want to go out on a Saturday.”, a repetitive and unsatisfied presentation of pop-music, this album blends EDM, soul, rock and melancholic tracks into a popular-song format that sees a lack of imagination, thus creating a set of tracks that are easy to listen to, easy to understand and easy to forget about.
In his first release of tracks: Love, Death & Dancing (Volume 1), Jack’s staple sound is as recognisable as ever. With production help on the album from Jacknife Lee (producer of recent albums False Alarm and The Balance) and James Flannigan; Love, Death & Dancing instantly recognises a truer tone in comparison to Phase. Maybe this is accountable to Jack Garratt’s expression of creating an album with meaning (something he admits he lacks in Phase), but the help of additional artists has instated a greater amount of control of feeling in the instrumental and classic ‘EDM drops’.
The opening track, Time, is an explicit fusion of scalic guitar riffs and underwhelming drops. Although fitting with the cyclical lyric ‘time is on your side’, Garratt’s lyrical messages are as unoriginal as his composition. However, the power of external production has allowed these lyrics to possess the production, a cold set of guitar-pedals and a reverberant vocal that never overpowers the vulnerability Jack is facing, the origin of Love, Death & Dancing bleeds pain, specifically, Garratt’s deterioration in his mental health post-tour. Time is a message from Jack, to himself situated from an external perspective – conscious of his mental decline, almost apologetic to his fans for being away for so long.
The conceit of death, sunk into almost every track on the album is clearly an explicit and important part of this album. The tracks Mara, Get In My Way, Circles, and She Will Lay My Body On The Stone address a demonic figure breaching his mind. Jack talks about experiencing a “day-to-day battle” with anxieties and depression in the midst of his hiatus. The album attempts to combat entities that are destroying Jack; a second attempt at writing a follow-up to Phase, with the first attempt scrapped by Jack in 2018. With similar meaning comes similar instrumentation; on this album, Jack, again, performs everything himself – this album truly is his, and not a school of writers, session-musicians, producers, mixers and engineers. However, this is not necessarily a good quality. Praise goes to Jack for writing an album single-handedly, but it is obvious he has done so. These three tracks, as well as almost every other track on the album follow this repetitive EDM-pop-song format of a gentle opening, a gradual layering of timbre and then a hit-or-miss drop to see home the track. An album by one man is certainly confined to an over-extended train of repetitive thought. The meanings in these tracks are certainly the most complex, but they are sending the same message, whether they are allusions to a Buddhist demon (Mara) or the man that ‘lies heavy in [Jack’s] head’, there is a desire to remove this figure from Garratt’s mind.
Jack further describes his struggle to battle the balance between love and death in tracks Return Them To The One and Anyone, but the product of this is always dancing. Being a self-destructive artist, Jack dedicates himself to his fans, he loses himself and his self-worth simultaneously: “I’m not the main event / Oh, won’t you take me as I am?”. Musically however, this duo of tracks is the most dynamic, switching between timbres and sections instigates the difficulty of pursuing his dream and drawing himself away from his love. The pop-EDM chords, drum loops and synthetic vocals alongside the repetition of “return them to the one” weaves Jack’s musicianship with an intended, albeit ill-organic, purpose of this album – the purpose being a fear of Jack’s, as he quotes Phase to be “a record full of beautiful metaphor that doesn’t really say anything”. Jack goes on further to explain: “I was scared to actually say something real; I didn’t think people wanted to hear it.”. The pulsating chorus’ in both tracks emphasise the meaning driving this album. Both tracks are unusually unique for a pop-album, they sound individualistic, they demonstrate Jack at his best. The colliding natures of these feelings possess themselves in the borderline chaotic peaks, and not only do they create an overwhelming sonic, but a powerful, honest, raw truth.
Jack Garratt is undoubtably an incredible musician, but his ability to intertwine complex meanings with differing melodies, instrumentations and structures seems to fall short repeatedly. The album, although powerful in an age of mental-health awareness, seems to draw attention to the same situations over and over (and over) again without really exploring different perspectives. The love he has for his partner, the suicidal thoughts he cannot escape, and this overwhelming sense of inability and ill-accomplishments drive and control his life in every setting. Although potentially argued, the repetitive structures of songs understand a cohesion, the album falls flat and against its title, it’s a contradictory album to dance to. An EP is a considerably more appropriate art-form than the extended set compilation of rehashed thought Love, Death & Dancing shows itself to be. The irony is simple; this album repeats itself as if every track were a new circle.
Listen to Love, Death & Dancing here.