With a feverish drumbeat to lead the way, Paul Jacks unleashes one synth groove on top of another in the song “Nightwave,” the third of eight tracks in his all new solo albumDefractor. The Smile Ease singer doesn’t hold anything back from us as he dispenses soft melodies with a swagger that confirms this isn’t his first trip to the studio. A dexterous, spidery rhythm wallops us with muscular, bass-heavy swing that is derived purely from old school new wave moodiness, and before we know it we’re sucked into the opulent sonic vortex growing out of the vocal harmonies. If you’re not the type of listener who enjoys genre-bending tonality that refuses to tether itself to the populist trends of the mainstream, Defractor is to be avoided – for everyone else, it’s a splendid addition to this season’s awesome collection of new releases.
The songs “Thief for Your Love,” “Mister Rollercoaster” and “Lightyear Radio” are basically electropop gems that have been repurposed through the lens of jittery rock n’ roll. He hasn’t admitted as much, but I get the impression that jangle pop was just as big an influence on Paul Jacks as post-punk heavyweights like Joy Division or The The might have been. There’s a rollicking rhythm to be found even in the dreamiest of material on this record, ensuring that the melodies never become so ambient as to deter more casual music fans from embracing their tonality. The organic rock vibe that we get in “Lightyear Radio” is the antithesis of halfhearted crossover tracks, which says something considering its formless shape and lack of a central hook.
“My Heart is a Book” is one of the sharper juggernauts that Defractor has to offer, and it takes the style of “Nightwave” and “Spy In Me” to a surrealist realm that is almost overwhelming if you’re not familiar with mammoth shoegaze grooves. All three of these songs are really indulgent, excessive even, but they don’t go off the rails with their melodies. This is a surprisingly accessible album for how experimentally tuned the craftsmanship is, but I think that’s a big part Defractor’s draw – it doesn’t play by any one set of rules, preferring instead to borrow from various schools of thought and forge something that is undisputedly Paul Jacks’ very own.
Britpop aficionados will detect a familiar amplifier resonance in the first track “Laid to Rest” from the moment the instruments start to crash into each other. What I like most about songs like this one, and really the whole of Defractor, is that Paul Jacks doesn’t limit himself to one particular style of attack. This is a far more diversified sound than what he demonstrated for us in Smile Ease, but his longtime supporters will find the same appealing attributes that led them to fall in love with his band some eleven years ago. Rebellious, fashionable and loaded with studded rhythms that will make even the most dedicated of wallflowers want to synchronize their bodies to the pendulant explosions of percussion, Defractor is an amazing new look for Jacks that I hope to see him expand on in the future.
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