Jack Garratt's debut, Phase, arrived with no shortage of British industry fanfare, as the singer and multi-instrumentalist won not only the 2016 Brit Award for Critics' Choice, but also the BBC Sound of 2016 top spot and the BBC Introducing Award. Under that spotlight, Garratt released a moving album of yearning power and deft electronic arrangements, with a dash of British garage and jungle. More accessible than James Blake, less precious than Sam Smith, and less pastoral than James Bay or Hozier, Garratt distinguishes himself by cleverly merging atmospheric electronics with emotional depth. At its most accessible, Phase sounds like what would happen if Sam Smith and Disclosure decided to make an entire album together ("Breathe Life," "Fire"). Yet at its most rewarding -- when he weaves his gritty growl with an angelic falsetto, the stark drum'n'bass beats with explosive warmth and soul -- Garratt creates an entirely immersive journey, manipulating the digital and the human. This dichotomy is illustrated by Phase's highlights: the plaintive "Weathered" soothes with sweetness before bursting with life, while the dubby gospel of "Surprise Yourself" melts away its icy shell and surges with joy. Such moments feel like revelations, but the best execution comes on album centerpiece "The Love You're Given," which was previously heard on his 2015 Synesthesiac EP. Starting with a sample of a haunting female voice, the track descends into electro-fuzz dissonance before building to a frenzy of sonics and texture. These refreshing moments satisfy because of the unexpected, the calm before the storm, the highs and lows. Elsewhere, Phase pulses with cool moments that breathe and sway, like on "Worry" and the second and third installments of his hypnotizing "Synesthesia" trilogy. Garratt closes with the stripped-down acoustic twinkler "My House Is Your Home." His voice is showcased by a spare piano accompaniment, revealing that aforementioned soul within the technological wizardry. Phase is an exciting debut from a fresh talent, a case where the artistic outcome can stand on its own merit.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung