Following two albums of generally bouncy, soul-inflected indie pop that looked to '80s movements such as the 2-Tone ska revival, sophisti-pop, and jangle pop for inspiration (2007's Matinee and 2009's Everything Is New), Londoner Jack Peñate decided to take a deep dive into the recording and production end of things in order to, as he saw it, better express his songwriting. No less than ten years and, per Peñate, over a thousand songs later, he re-emerges with After You. Perhaps surprisingly, the album was co-produced by Peñate, Alex Epton (David Byrne, Holy Ghost!), Inflo aka Dean Josiah (the Kooks, Tom Odell), and Everything Is New producer Paul Epworth (Paul McCartney, Beck). Together, they significantly update his sound, opting for more expansive, choir-fortified arrangements and sleek electronics, bringing him into the home-studio era of electro-pop. Importantly, it still sounds like Peñate -- ever catchy and hummable -- if a more serious, didactic version of himself informed by world events in the interim decade. These shifts are well-reflected on the dramatic opener, "Prayer," a gospel-charged anthem that layers electric guitar, distorted keyboard timbres, fluttering strings, and spacy interjections before landing on its spacious, clap-along chorus. This quality of having extraneous manipulated sounds and effects as well as room to breathe is persistent throughout an album where listeners will likely be able to distinguish most all of the voices in play while, at the same time, some curiosity is typically throwing off perfect symmetry. In another seeming contradiction, though Peñate's voice breaks as he wails and sighs "I need a little prayer" over choir-style backing singers, the song somehow comes across as distinctly restrained. An unofficial sister song to "Prayer," the menacing "Murder" appears midway through the track list and puts a different spin on the church tent revival, combining it with club tropes like blurting synth tones, a syncopated bassline, and four on the floor. More-atmospheric, reflective tracks like "GMT" and "Loaded Gun" still have that articulate glitchiness to them as well as soaring, lyrical vocal lines. If there's an outlier here, it's "Gemini," an elegantly unsettling track that features the brutal poem "The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb," written by Peñate's grandfather, Mervyn Peake, and read with Shakespearian finesse by his uncle Fabian. Both fatalistic and romantic, "Swept to the Sky" closes the album with a dramatic death scene. Arguably heavy-handed but regrettably timely, even if allegorical, After You marks an ambitious return for the long-absent musician, one that ultimately rewards with musicality.
After You Review
by Marcy Donelson
|7||Jack Peñate feat: Peter Phillips / The Tallis Scholars||04:17||Amazon|