This article is created in partnership with Jim Beam to celebrate the launch of Welcome Sessions – a new live music series that sees groundbreaking artists return to the venue that first welcomed them.
Five years ago, Jack Garratt was in a near-impossible position. After releasing two successful EPs and a string of high rotation singles in the lead up to his debut album, Phase, Garratt claimed top spot on the BBC’s Sound of 2016 list and won the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2016 Brits.
In doing so, he not only beat out the likes of Dua Lipa and Alessia Cara, but became just the fourth artist to grab both honours in the same year. The other three? Adele, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith. It’s elite company, but rather than coming as a blessing, Garratt’s ascendancy imposed an unrealistic set of expectations on Phase, which had come out just a week prior to the Brits.
By anyone else’s standards, Phase fared exceptionally well upon its release, hitting #3 in the UK charts and paving the way for a year of non-stop touring that took Garratt from the UK to the US, Australia and Japan. But Garratt had never claimed to be a capital “P” pop artist – his tastes and interests are too untamed for that – and so achieving a chart-busting breakthrough equivalent to that of Adele or Sam Smith was never really in the frame.
He’s spoken since of how the post-awards expectations came to haunt him, making him feel like he was forced to play a game he never chose to participate in. And so, after wrapping up close to 150 shows throughout 2016, Garratt retreated from the limelight in order to regather his personal and artistic composure. The next time anyone heard from him was in February 2020 when he unveiled the single ‘Time’, along with an announcement of his forthcoming second LP, Love, Death & Dancing.
In a recent interview with Atwood Magazine, Garratt said his primary goal while making the record was “to sound like Jack Garratt.” And it’s true: Love, Death & Dancing is a comprehensive exploration of Garratt’s wide-ranging tastes and curiosities, swerving from mainstream dance-pop to arena rock shredding and broken-hearted indie-R&B.
There’s an awful lot going on across Love, Death & Dancing, but the record vindicates Garratt’s three-year absence, with the London-based artist displaying an enhanced ability to meld and harmonise his seemingly disparate and contrasting range of influences.
Just shy of the album’s one year anniversary, we’ve compiled this list of five Jack Garratt essentials. Find those here below, then head here to watch the artist return to independent East London venue, Village Underground for a captivating performance as part of Jim Beam’s ‘Welcome Sessions’.
1. ‘Time’, Love, Death & Dancing (2020)
There’s a heck of a lot of symbolism tied up in ‘Time’, the first single from Garratt’s second album, Love, Death & Dancing. For one thing, the title seems a sly nod to the fact it was Garratt’s first new music in four years. Then there’s the lyrical content, which sets listeners up for the comprehensive soul-searching catalogued on Love, Death & Dancing.
But ultimately, it’s a song of resilience, with Garratt declaring he won’t be derailed by his fears and anxieties. This journey from anxious dread to resolute acceptance is mirrored by the song’s evolving and expansive arrangement. ‘Time’ starts out as a relatively spare rock ballad. By its conclusion, it’s a full-blown orchestral banger, featuring a burst of horns couched in a lift-you-from-your-seat drum beat.
2. ‘Mara’, Love, Death & Dancing (2020)
‘Mara’ might well be Garratt’s finest piece of songwriting to date. Lyrically, at least, it has no competition. In an effort to evade insularity, Garratt borrows an analogue from Buddhism, reframing his struggles with depression and dark thoughts within the story of Mara, the demon who appeared to temp the Buddha as he sought enlightenment.
In Garratt’s version, Mara comes to taunt him in his weakest moments, but by the song’s end he commits to confronting the darkness rather than spiralling into hysteria every time it surfaces. As is Garratt’s custom, the track’s lyrical complexity sits in contrast to its arrangement. ‘Mara’ moves with the momentum of an ‘80s pop-rock classic and even includes a searing lead guitar interlude. But it’s the stacked vocal harmonies of the chorus that’ll really turn your dial.
3. ‘Worry’, Remnants (2014)
‘Worry’ is the only track from Garratt’s debut EP, Remnants, to make it onto Phase. The EP was made when Garratt was just 22 years old and although his knack for synthesising far-flung sounds was already in evidence, ‘Worry’ isn’t nearly as maximalist as much of what’s come since.
The song is delivered from the perspective of a heartbroken lover – the subject of their love has moved on, but they remain fixated and thus destitute. A slinky distorted bass riff backs up the highly infectious, “Don’t you worry about me,” chorus hook, which Garratt sings in falsetto. The song’s simplified pop sensibilities explain why it remains Garratt’s most popular single.
4. ‘Better’, Love, Death & Dancing (2020)
‘Better’ is a dance song. In fact, that’s true of many of the tracks on Love, Death & Dancing, in spite of the record’s hefty themes. Seriously, this could have appeared on Kylie Minogue’s DISCO LP, indicating why Garratt’s been tapped to write songs for the likes of Katy Perry and Kacy Hill.
The lyrics focus on a popular dancefloor topic: drugs. But instead of endorsing Dionysian hedonism, ‘Better’ finds Garratt grappling with the temptation to seek a chemical solution to his inner turmoil.
5. ‘Breathe Life’, Phase (2016)
Garratt’s sound is a real pick and mix, with elements of downtempo R&B and dubstep often sidling up against indie pop and house music. They’re all apparent on ‘Breathe Life’, which begins with Garratt offering his best James Blake impersonation before diverting into total sub bass-ridden house music euphoria.
It’s a rare occasion where the music’s celebratory air is matched by the lyrical tenor. ‘Breathe Life’ is a song of gratitude for the one he loves; a paean to a mutually sustaining connection.