Since releasing a handful of EPs starting in 2014, British singer-songwriter Jack Garratt has crafted music that’s equal parts dreamy and synthy, soothing and soaring, and earned him buzz status in his native country. But it’s hard to nail down where Garratt falls on a sonic spectrum of pop, especially since he’s essentially a one-man, multi-instrumental band. It’s even harder to determine whether or not the disparate drift of Garratt’s sound is a good thing.
But it’s a good problem to have, especially considering Garratt’s extraordinary vocals, which are a feature on his major-label debut full length Phase. Over a dozen tracks, he rasps his way up the octaves during his frequent, almost anthemic choruses. Marked by big drops in sound and sudden gospel pick-ups, he’s a textured vocalist (with, granted, occasionally hyper-romanticized lyrics) on songs like the blazing “Surprise Yourself,” the album-best “Weathered,” and his gripping, simple piano ballad, “My House Is Your Home.”
Yet these tunes are outliers. Throughout Phase, Garratt backs—or is it masks?—most of his sublime vocal talent with a layer of electronic experimentation, sometimes to a thrilling degree (“Breathe Life” and “Far Cry” are probably the best examples of his gift for blending catchy hooks with quirky synths) and sometimes not (skip the wincing “The Love You’re Given”). Sonically, Garratt plays with two entirely different albums: One of easy indie acoustipop and another of loose, trippy PBR&B.
You could argue that Garratt applied unnecessary polish over what might be a prettier patina, but he deserves props for mapping out his own terrain, accessibility be damned. Major-label pop rarely allows an experimental artist of this degree, but Garratt is proof it may be time for that to change. B–