The creative process is a mysterious one. Many artists are able to go into their studio or rehearsal space or hole up in a corner of their home and knock out a song in no time, for others the journey isn’t so simple. Jack Peñate was one of these artists. The writer/producer’s last album Everything Is New wrapped up its tour cycle ten years ago and the London based artist felt like he was unable to make a follow up. What happened over the next decade was a journey for him to be able to try to become a fully self sufficient recording artist. Peñate was 27 years old and he wanted to be able to walk into any studio in the world and be able to recreate the emotions that swim around inside his head through sound. This long learning process has finally paid off with the release of Peñate’s third album, and first in a decade, the lush and heartfelt After You.
The album kicks off with “Prayer”, a minimal lament, punctuated with lightly plucked guitar and the simplest of beats but the real star of the show is Peñate’s words and melody. When he sings “I Need A Little Prayer Now” in the song’s powerful chorus, you can hear all the work that he put into making his feelings into sound. “Loaded Gun” follows this up beautifully. Peñate has said before that one of the things he really strove for through his music was the feeling of being respected. He sings off the top, “I Want The World To Know My Name”, and even through this simple statement, you feel the weight of his decade long journey behind it. “Round and Round” features a stylistic breakbeat floating underneath some delightfully backward synth parts that highlight Peñate’s background in electronic music. It’s the album’s first big pop song and that chorus of “Round and Round, We Go” is an ear worm that will stick in your heads for days. “Lover” is a slice of wonderfully moody R&B while “Murder” shines as Peñate’s take on 90s style Stereo MC esque electronic hip hop. This all leads up to the album’s most poignant song “Gemini”. With just piano, vibraphone and a simple beat, Peñate showcases the words of his grandfather, the artist and writer Mervyn Peake but it isn’t Peñate who reads these words, well, not Jack but his Uncle Fabian. It’s definitely one of the albums highlights and a perfect almost intermission in the proceedings. “GMT” feels like a hipper but still long lost Seal track. Peñate’s melody flying effortlessly over the snap, crackle and pop style beat sprinkled with welcome horn bursts. Album closer “Swept To The Sky” sums up the journey of After You perfectly. Peñate sings about being lost over lush piano and ambient noise and throughout the escalating track, by the time the drums kick in, the singer is able to find redemption.
After You may have taken a decade of hard work, introspection and learning to come to fruition but the work that Peñate has put in is definitely on display through each of the album’s fully realized songs. It’s rare for an artist to wait a decade to release a follow up album but in Peñate’s case it’s clear that this journey was one he needed to take. One, not only for himself to be able to master his craft but also to find his voice again and to feel like he finally had something to say and the skills to be able to reproduce what that something actually feels like. The creative process may be a mysterious one but the journey the Jack Peñate took to realize After You was well worth the wait.
review by Adam Fink
After You by Jack Peñate is now available via XL Recordings