Although his last eighteen months have certainly been prolific – production and arrangement credits on new material from Ngairre, BUOY, and Christopher Port, signing to Sydney electronic label, Of Leisure, and producing a new EP – like the euphonious subculture from which he hails, these achievements have been largely underground. Those in the know, know, with the rest of us unwittingly ignorant. But with the recent release of If I Tremble, Jack’s heading for the light and getting the nod from some of Australia’s biggest names in music.
Jack Grace’s music is often described in terms of abstraction. He offers fractured arrangements and space within his compositions, forcing the listener to engage with the work on a deeper level. And as I crack the plastic wrap on his EP, the cover art is a clear indication of those elements within his music. The portrait graphic at its centre presents as a sort-of washed out silk screen over a predominately white background with Jack’s name running vertically in a blood-red tape up the far righthand side. In addition, the EP’s title (top left) is fractured as though the word “if” had fallen from its place. All of this accompanied by a number of letters in Jack’s name drooping and bleeding into the banner they’re printed on. If album artworks and the music they house are to work as a cohesive – two parts of the one artistic whole – then the album’s imagery should evoke sentiments expressed within the music. In many ways the imagery should act as a visual map key, offering a way into and around the material within the album. Great musicians go to these artistic lengths, and it’s what makes flipping records so fucking good. So before you’ve even slipped the record on, the cover art of If I Tremble is giving the listener a taste of the fracturing, the white spaces, the bleeding of his lyrics. It’s intelligent, and show’s Grace’s deeper-level thinking for the broader aspects of his art, how it might compliment the music.
Album out of the jacket and the needle dropped, track one/ side one, “ALOHP” begins as a splintered medley of gospel samples over drum loops, building layer upon layer to create frenetic anticipation. It’s the metaphoric drum roll before the curtains draw. And once they are drawn, just over a minute in to the track, the crescendo peaks, the applause subsides and the act begins. Grace peels away each layer he previously built and we’re left only with the vulnerability of his vocals bleeding into the ambience of soft drum patter. “ALOHP” acts as a portent to the EP as a whole. As a listener you’re raised, layer upon layer in growing fervour until the crescendo peaks and you’re gently carried down the adjacent slope.
That build, which grows slowly but steadily on side A of the EP, is marshalling toward lead single “Downstate”, the second track of side B. But to get there we go through tracks “us” and “waiting”. It’s worth mentioning, too, Grace’s clever two note substructure on “us” that swings back and forth like a pendulum in urgent succession. Hitchcockian in its affect, it works to create a sort of Psycho-esque tension behind the track. It’s clever, detailed music curation and exactly the sort of thing that’s likely to make Grace a big name in the years to come.
Flipping to side B, Grace opens up the second half of the EP with “BE4UGO”. But it’s the second track of side B, “Downstate”, that is its dominate force and easily Grace’s most accessible song to date. Synth laden, anthemic in its construction, and Grace’s most commanding vocal approach, “Downstate” is big in scope and lends itself to commercial appeal. It’s a more cohesive composition compared to his other works, offering easier rewards for the listener with much less effort. It’s a mature direction in his songwriting, no doubt, and worthy of its recent hype. But perhaps what makes Jack Grace and his recent EP, If I Tremble, so engrossing is the way he winds it down.
All too quickly the Jame Blake and Bon Iver references can be thrown at Grace. And that’s not to say they’re without merit. They are. There are strong resemblances to parts of Grace’s work, throughout the EP, that are imbued with the techniques of these two artists, but it’s his venture into electronic, neo-songbook gospel where the comparisons somewhat fade and he stands alone. And the affect is stunning. Title track “if i tremble” and it’s follow up “row me home” are works of pure beauty. Sunshine breaking through the clouds after the storm. They’re stripped of earlier complexities, ambient in tone, harrowingly fragile and utterly endearing. Simple melodies are supported by equally simple lyrical structures, and are made all the stronger for it.
If you were so inclined you might read the last lines of the final track, “row me home” as something of a prophecy: “Please don’t row me close to shore / row me straight to the storm”. It’s exactly where Jack Grace is headed. And it feels as though he’s all-too prepared to tackle it, head-on. With fellow electronic specialists, Nick Murphy and Flume, giving Grace’s songwriting the nod, there’s little doubt he’s headed toward a big future, certainly if this latest release is anything to go by. And it's one I'll be following closely.
As a record collector, EPs can be a strange things. Some are often little more than individual ideas slapped together and packaged as a whole, disjointed and uneasy to palate. Not so with If I Tremble. It’s three tracks shy of an album and certainly arranged as though it were one. A great amount of thought and detail has gone into If I Tremble. It's a complex, intricate and thoroughly enjoyable journey into the depths of a young, burgeoning Australian electronic artist with a bright future ahead of him.
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