On January 16th, UK singer/songwriter Jack Garratt played an exclusive concert at NYC’s SubCulture, an underground venue that hosts rising contemporary artists and comedy acts
The intimate show was greeted with encouraging cheers from industry colleagues and friends associated with Island Records, Garratt’s label that released his debut album Phase in 2016.
Featured as an exclusive “Work in Progress” performance, Garratt played mostly new music, a majority of which is set to be released February 5th on his sophomore EP Love, Death & Dancing. Sweeping, unwieldy subjects as these set the tone for the evening, as Garratt spoke and sang to the adversities he’s faced since exploding onto Britain’s pop scene in 2015. On stage in a room of friendly faces, he sketched an arc of his professional and personal crises. After Garratt had racked up a few accolades in late 2016, including BRIT Awards “Critics Choice Award,” he said he struggled to source happiness from his burgeoning career.
Disparagingly describing the experience of being propelled to stardom, Garratt proclaimed: “I didn’t know how to identify myself while people were all suddenly identifying me.” Evidence of a subsequent plunge into the darker side of his mind is prominently reflected on the new tracks. On Phase, the source of his ruminations are largely external, projecting hopeful renderings of the future, like in “Surprise Yourself,” and recounting relationship woes – cue “Worry.” In contrast, the lyrics on his new songs focus on a turning inwards of sorts, viscerally reconstructing moments of suffering and the often negative feedback loop that comes from self-hating thoughts.
Garratt introduced the collection of songs he performed as a process of resurgence, a recalibrating of his musical intentions. “I’m trying really really hard to make songs that I care about,” he declared. In terms of the actual content, perhaps this act of trying too hard enhances their lyrical genericism. While exuding a refreshing vulnerability, Garratt’s songwriting persisted like a manicured stream of consciousness, lines whose originality felt inherently cracked, a manufactured retelling of universal experiences. For example, an invocation of shortsightedness will probably lead to prolonged suffering: “If I can take something to feel better now / everything else will work itself out.” Sure, a relatable practice in self-destruction, but vastly more telling than showing. Songs titled “Better” and “Time” in essence hint at the hollowness of their interior – merely shells of what, in reality, constitutes much more nuanced, complicated experiences.
You do have to appreciate the degree of exposure that informs the new album, including a song in which Garratt describes the frustrating experience of talking to a therapist, and another on which he contemplates suicide for the first time. Moreover, his performance of “Old Enough” a song that originated before Phase, and one that he has kept largely to himself over the years, made me shiver with goosebumps.
Looking pointedly nervous on stage – yet with a charmingly eager presence – Garratt fumbled unashamedly (re: work in progress) through a few of his new songs. This unfinished quality framed his overall approach to the night, noting at one point that in his writing, he purposefully leaves a lot of questions unresolved and unanswered.
Effortlessly moving between guitar and piano, Garratt’s production seemed relatively unchanged from his first album – preludes of electronic blues (supported by a skillful recurrence of looping) wavering into frenzied bursts of choruses. His voice had the emotive authenticity that his lyrics lacked, and as he closed his eyes and sang, you could tell he’s laying bare all he has – an artist who may not be completely comfortable with performing, but whose headspace benefits greatly from the cathartic act. And maybe that’s the point, it’s about Garratt’s personal journey, one that – as for us all – will always be a work in progress.
Garratt’s tour resumes on Tuesday February 18th in Manchester, UK, followed by a string of performances across Europe.