CD REVIEW: Defractor by Paul Jacks
Sizzling strands of synthesized melody greet us in “Laid to Rest,” the opening song in Paul Jacks’ new album Defractor, rising out of the darkness and soon occupying every inch of space within our speakers. Jacks delicately weaves his vocal into the fabric of the grooves, which are light as a feather and yet punishingly fierce and nimble by design. The tempo modulates around the timbre of his voice, supply submitting to his tempered verses and carefully easing us into the marching beat of the second track, “My Heart is a Book.” “My Heart is a Book” is dreamy, soft and virtuous, but its melody is crushingly large and brutally vivid in the jarring mix. As we shift gears with the dance rocker “Nightwave,” it becomes quite obvious that Paul Jacks is determined to shed the identity he had with his previous band Smile Ease in favor of formulating something much darker and erudite in his solo career.
The muted feedback that welcomes listeners at the start of “Lightning Lobotomy” quickly gives way to an effervescent groove that bludgeons us with texture but doesn’t push us over the edge of accessibility. A poignant primer for the stately eclectic pop of “Thief for Your Love,” “Lightning Lobotomy” could actually stand on its own as a single just fine, but unquestionably adds to the fluidity of Defractor as a complete piece. “Spy in Love” flirts with MGMT-like percussion but avoids the pitfalls of recreation by injecting the melody with a stoic black and white grating that has more in common with industrial rock than it does sparkling indie pop.
“Mister Rollercoaster” is easily the most haunting of all the tracks that Defractor presents us with, churning us in a cyclone of sonic wonderment that recalls the early, DIY-influenced days of shoegaze. A howling guitar part propels a visceral harmony between Jacks and the backing band and makes the entire song feel like a stadium-rocking anthem instead of just another electrified studio recording. If Jacks were to play these songs acoustically, they might serve as some of the most eccentrically designed outsider pop songs of the last decade, but in this amplified format they’re nothing short of spellbinding and smothering, even at their most restrained. I’d really love to hear how he adapts these tracks for the stage – something tells me they would become even more beastly and domineering than they are in this divinely insular mix.
Defractor reaches its conclusion with the optimistic thunder pop of “Lightyear Radio,” which in many ways brings all of the boisterous tension and tonality of the previous seven songs to an unforgettable climax. Personally I found that repeated listens of this album allow for us to really appreciate the plethora of intricacies that its compositions throttle in our direction. When examined closely, you can hear the finer points of the arrangements grinding against each other and producing harmonies that are rousing, ambient and full of rich vitality. This arguably exceeds what even his most diehard fans expected in his debut solo effort, and as far as I’m concerned Defractor ushers in a new era for Paul Jacks’ intriguing career that will rival his greatest accomplishments as the face of cult heroes Smile Ease.
by Joshua Corbin
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