2016 is a momentous year in many ways. It heralds the Rio Olympics, a British referendum and a nail-biting US Presidential election. Oh, and it was the year that Leo FINALLY got his coveted Oscar. But musically, there is only one name on everybody’s lips – and that’s the ginger hipster Jack Garratt. Hailing from Buckinghamshire, this BBC Introducing favourite has electrified the acoustic-guitar playing, male-songwriter stereotype and positioned himself centre-stage on the UK music scene.
Wowing fans with his standout EPs Remnants, Remnix and Synesthesiac, 24-year old Garratt has taken the world of indie pop by storm. Last year alone, he supported Mumford and Sons in their tour across the UK and Ireland, and headlined the introducing stage at Reading and Leeds. And after years of gigging and writing, it appears that the critics are in agreement. Recipient of this year’s Brits Critics Choice Award (with previous winners including the likes of James Bay, Adele and Sam Smith), Garratt has been given the official nod – and as such, has become ubiquitous. Blasting out from every radio station and headlining every major UK festival this summer, it seems that no-one can escape from this incandescent tour de force. Making waves with his eclectic amalgamation of soul, electro-pop and dubstep, Garratt strives to push and subvert traditional musical boundaries. With just a laptop and his keyboard, Garratt proves that raw emotion and lyricism just cannot be bought – but that combining them with ground-breaking beats and breaks is a commercial success. Comparisons to the likes of Ed Sheeran and James Bay are thus inevitable, although completely unfounded. Garratt’s unique brand brings innovation and vivacity to the song-writing industry, creating instant dance-hits whilst still conveying a wealth of emotion – implicit in hits like Breathe Life. His long-awaited debut album, Phase, released on the 19th February, had a lot to live to up to. And in true Garratt style, he surpassed all of our expectations.
The opening track, Coalesce (Synthesisa II) harks back to his EP Synesthesiac, and it is this sense of familiarity in the riff that hooks the listener into this enigmatic album. The definition of synthesisa, namely a cognitive response to a stimulation that results in another automatic sensory response, pervades and colours the album itself, as the listener is themselves hooked. Breathe Life, with its uplifting beats, steel drums and subtle electronic hints, is a bona-fide hit, whilst Far Cry builds to a satisfying and hypnotic crescendo with a strong bass. Characteristic of this album is Garratt’s diverse mash up of soothing piano and choral sounds with powerful dubstep, culminating in a heady climax that leaves the listener yearning for more. In particular, Fire seems to replicate the erratic nature of flames themselves, flickering away to start with before flaring up, and then being suddenly extinguished. Subsequently, hits like Weathered, Worry and The Love You’re Given seem fairly mellow in comparison, as Garratt transcends and surpasses the boundaries imposed by the commercial music industry. Chemical pioneers in its experimentation with different electric tones, whilst my favourite Synesthesia Pt. III ends the triad of Synthesisa with an almighty and earth-shattering bang. It is only My House is Your Home that feels slightly out of place in this otherwise quite radically electric work – providing a more down tempo and emotional vibe for the album to end on. The track however, seamlessly showcases Garratt’s innate soul and flawless falsetto in a stripped back, emotive piece, and gives a different reading of the entire album – if you just focus on the lyrics, the songs themselves take on an entirely new meaning. Lines like “I heal to hurt”, “Feel your warmth embrace my fragile mind” and “Pick apart the feelings you left” hint at an intense vulnerability, of an intensity so raw and unprecedented that Garratt has obviously experienced. However, as it is masked by the banging and hypnotic nature of electro-dubstep mash, no-one really seems to notice.
Garratt’s debut then, is quite extraordinary. In piecing together raw sentiment with a heady bass and electric overtones, Garratt creates a masterful revelation, in which both listener and artist are transported on a journey of self-discovery. It reveals the importance of both interiors and exteriors, and what’s more, applauds innovation and originality. As Garratt himself said, “it’s the importance of difference, the importance of uniqueness”. Phase, in its very idiosyncrasies, is highly successful in uncovering and celebrating the previously unearthed.