In my November 2018 review of Defractor, the official solo debut of offbeat, iconoclastic indie-pop singer/songwriter Paul Jacks - after years as frontman of the Anchorage based band Smile Ease - I had a lone criticism amidst reveling in its magical electronic “beat swirling” twists on the classic Gary Numan/OMD/Joy Division vibe.
I loved the overall vibrancy, the bright grooves, atmospheric melodies and soaring production values. Yet I also felt his ethereal vocals, while emotionally compelling in spots, got a bit lost in the synthesis of sonic energy. “Next time,” I wrote, “he shouldn’t be so shy about letting himself shine a bit (more).” Since his full-length follow-up In Other Words, was partly recorded around the same time as the first (and is being released within a year, a generosity we can be grateful for!), we can forgive the similar walls of sound and the way his vocals drift within them. Maybe that’s just going to be his distinctive trademark, and it’s actually kind of cool once you get used to it because a lot of this stuff is probably best experienced on the dance floor.
Creative evolution-wise, what’s most impressive – and why we would indeed like to get more clarity on the lyrics he’s singing – is the way these songs aggregate to tell a fresh story of love lost, the human tendency towards self-destruction, self-denial/denial of life’s harsh realities, shame/regret and our rebirth via longing and then, finally at long last hope.
Jacks’ deeper introspection emerges in part from the heartrending shadows of losing a friend to suicide in the last year. He immerses in and reflects the darkness (yes, even as we’re grooving, he takes us pretty deep), and he acknowledges we often live life “On the Tightrope” (a shimmering, hypnotic ballad, and one of the collection’s key emotional entry points). Yet as he says, “No matter how grim your situation looks, it’s gonna get better and we can use art to heal ourselves and find new awareness that we didn’t have before.”
Life doesn’t always give us closure, but Jacks pretty much does – and that in itself is enough to stop worrying so much about losing occasional fragments of those stories in the mixing room.