For a music journalist there’s a point of pride to be able to follow an indie artist’s creative development and career trajectory from the beginning. As I get caught up in the grooving jangliness, swirling atmospheres, ethereal vocals and decidedly growth intensive, forward thinking themes on his latest (and arguably his most satisfying) album Amphibious, I’m also thinking about the reviews I wrote of his three previous excellent, quirky and deeply intriguing collections, starting with Defractor (2018) and including his much darker toned 2020 set Black Jackal, a pandemic era release whose musical vibes and lyrical aesthetic reflected the anxious place we were all at then.
Some might remember that before this outburst of infectious and distinctive indie pop solo magic, Jacks was co-founder and frontman of Anchorage AK band Smile Ease for over 15 years. If it feels like there’s a new spring in the singer’s proverbial step both poetically and rhythmic intensity wise (check out the dreamy funk romp “Left in a Haste” with its exuberant “bababa” exultations towards at the end, and you’ll understand), it could be due to unshackling himself from behind the boards and creating his new works under the guidance of producer Alex Newport, who’s brought the sonic goods to Death Cab for Cutie, Block Party, Mars Volta, Matt Costa, etc. (Jacks and Newport first worked together on Jacks’ likewise bright and vibrant 2021 single “Foolish Pride.”
His shift in mindset might also be a manifestation of a more spontaneous approach to writing and recording, with the singer entering the studio with unfinished songs for the first time and writing, rewriting and improving them during the recording sessions. Jacks admits it was a risk, but it paid off not only in sonic dazzle and rhythmic diversity but also with songs that reflect a newfound sense of self-awareness (starting with the sweeping, hypnotic and jangling reflection “If I Were a Better Man.”
Though the fast paced (dare we say almost danceable) tunes like those aforementioned and the funky Motown influenced R&B/rock romp “My Love Has To Ask” are most likely the tunes you’ll be vibing to over and over, the caressing atmospheres and slower tempos that have been Jacks’ unforgettable emotional trademark throughout all his releases are there for more laid back listening on tunes like “Brand New Shame,” “Die For Your Love” and the lilting title track, which finds him declaring, “I needed to change/I hide too well/I had to live in my skin. . .whatever comes my way.”