Insularity is the theme of pop music this year without any need for debate, and while this was on the mind of Paul Jacks when he was creating Black Jackal, I don’t know that I qualifying his new album as a product of the quarantine pop movement would be justifiable. There’s too much of an unsheltered personality to its tracklist’s best moments; even in those on the nose-numbers like “The Quarantine” and “Into the Silence,” vibrancy seeps into the songcraft any way it can (as opposed to getting smothered by the overwhelming sense of isolation, as is the case with most songs influenced by the trend).
There’s a lot more of a straightforward attack behind “The Hunger,” “Acres of Diamonds,” “Walk Alone” and “Lunacy’s Back” than most of Jacks’ closest disciples will probably be expecting, but I don’t know that this symbolizes any element of selling-out his ideals at all. He’s streamlining some parts of his songwriting style, but for the most part the same zany concepts that made his first two records are left wholly intact for the ten performances included in Black Jackal, which is hardly indicative of someone looking to shed one creative identity in favor of adopting another one.
Instrumentally speaking, Black Jackal is one of the more spread out LPs I’ve had the chance to take a peek at in the month of December thus far, and I think this was very important to avoid the overpowering ‘stacked’ feeling a lot of similar alternative records have suffered from in recent years. There’s absolutely such a thing as doing too much, but rather than running that risk in this album, Paul Jacks is letting surrealism further inspire how he takes on his career – with results that any artist would be more than pleased to get, I should add.
Jacks’ vocal is smothered by the synthesizers in “Always Something to It,” but this just so happens to bring out some of the more interesting harmonic colors you’re likely to encounter in this record. He puts a spin on a melancholic hook that immediately turns somber undertones into a point of optimism for the listener, and as balladic as its framework is, this track is actually among the more upbeat feel-good numbers in alternative pop/rock out this season. Contradictions are always inviting in this genre, but duality is something that turns the deepest of underground players into icons virtually overnight.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Black Jackal this month, and if you’re wondering if it’s legit, I’m here to tell you it absolutely is. I’m very impressed with who Paul Jacks has become in the last three years, and if you haven’t had the chance to listen to any of his music yet, this might be the right LP to get started with. He leaves a memorable mark on every one of the ten songs in Black Jackal, and when all is said and done, I think this has the potential to bring him more exposure than anyone had originally anticipated.
by Bethany Page