Alaskan Paul Jacks’ sophomore solo release In Other Words is a hopeful release in the end. The ten songs comprising the album wrestle with intense emotions and subject matter but the light Jacks spies at the end of the song cycle is not an oncoming train but, instead, a better tomorrow. It is the peak offering thus far from a talented singer/songwriter and musician who began his professional life heading the critical praised band Smile Ease and its spinoff outfit Asteroid. Most artists discover their true path through trial, error, and experience – Jacks is no exception – but this release underlines a feeling of inevitability hinted at by his solo debut Defractor. Jacks is meant to be a solo artist.
This doesn’t mean there’s no merit in him collaborating with others. One time Asteroid keyboardist Colton Ciufo buttresses Jack’s songwriting acumen with musical gifts of his own and exerts a strong influence over the album’s final sound. They boast obvious chemistry throughout this ten song collection. The glittering synthesizer driven opening for “In the Late Dark” testifies to their interplay. It swells from its first effervescent notes into a full on electronic cascade before pre-programmed percussion and Jacks’ voice join the performance. The mix buries Jacks’ voice a little too much, but the intention is clear – the song intends for you to hear his singing alongside the musical arrangement rather than separate and leading the way. They share equal footing.
There is a suggestion of organ in the title song’s opening notes before sparkling synth riffing takes over. The percussion track is less pronounced for this track and there’s no shifting of gears in the song’s second half – “In Other Words” takes a direct approach from beginning to end and runs a little under three minutes. The fourth track “Too Emotional” has a musical arrangement befitting its title, but Jacks and Ciufo never relinquish complete control. It’s orchestrated electronic chaos reflected in a more cluttered arrangement than we hear on the earlier tracks. Jacks’ lyrics are ideal for the track, as well, and deliver spot on imagery any listener can connect with.
“Draw Upon” kicks off with an unsettled and even lightly dissonant introduction before settling into a hypnotic groove. Jacks lays down an echo laden vocal woven, like other cuts, into the tapestry of the overall arrangement rather than over it and the introspective quality of the lyrics proves to be no hurdle for listeners looking to relate to the song’s themes. The penultimate cut “On the Tightrope” finds the subject of Jacks’ songwriting down and out and the lyrics benefit from their juxtaposition with another shimmering musical arrangement. There’s a dreamlike quality to the song’s sound and the sparing use of vocal harmonies adds rewarding layers to the recording.
The finale “You’re Gonna Learn to Love Someday” starts off with a bit of theatrical sound effects before launching into the main body of the song. It’s a successful track, for the most part, but some listeners will feel like it could be even more effective if the vocals didn’t have such a removed quality. The dense electronic musical arrangement belies the optimism of the song’s title a little, but the track packs the same sonic punch characterizing the collection as a whole and ends the release on a hopeful note. Paul Jacks’ In Other Words isn’t without flaw, but it finds this talented singer/songwriter scaling new heights and further defining his sound and substance as a solo artist.
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