Inspired by spontaneous real life events, searingly honest lyricism meets gracefully ethereal harmonies in what is one of this years most captivating releases.
Inside the mind of every artist is a plethora of influences, but some can fall into the trap of imitating to the point of replicating: JJ Draper has dramatically exempted himself from this sentiment in almost reticent fashion.
Without doing his previous work a disservice, ‘Theft & The Flight’ offers a bolder, more honest expression of the artist himself, conveying themes of love, tragedy and confusion from a charmingly direct and personal viewpoint. The engineering of this record oozes with confidence and complexity, rendering the listener powerless to its authenticity, enticing the mind into a nightmare you don’t want to wake up from. To make a record sound meticulous without it bordering on fussy is much harder than you’d think, yet Draper has managed to walk the sonic tight-rope between tonality and resonance with ease.
In a manner similar to Sigur Ros’ 2013 studio album Kveikur, the composition bends and contorts into a genre of its own, on occasions veering towards the darkest corners of alternative-folk. The smooth transition between placidity and instrumental flamboyance offers a contrasting look into the stories being narrated, sharing the spoils with generous smatterings of magical moments: most notably the outrageously frenetic crescendo at the end of the title track.
Served as a profound accompaniment, the familial intimacy in the artwork accentuates the sentimental textures in the lyrics. As the younger baby stands in a state of happiness, his mother sits wilfully in a standoff, creating a notion of tension between the songwriter and the song, or as the artist himself put it “the creator standing up against the created“. As a body of work, the EP personifies its title in a glittering show of originality, stealing your time in a way that leaves you ironically fulfilled, awkwardly waiting for more.
‘That’s What I Call Progress…’
The first track on any EP must be able to set the tone without exhausting the listeners ongoing sense of fascination; this one does just that. Following a hallucinatory journey of self-discovery, we’re thrown into a whirlpool of contemplation, opened by the solitary sequence of pervasively delicate vocals and plucked guitars. Tuned to an intricately warped sequence, the verse advances into a buoyantly gloomy chorus, where the intensity develops from a subtle murmer into deafening howl; providing that lingering feeling of expectation for the tracks to come. Leaning towards more adventurous production techniques, the title mirrors its performance, a continuously bubbling melting pot of oscillating synths and swooning guitars, which lead our sensory, drug-induced adventure into the nostalgia of life and death.
‘Awake In The Night’
Awake In The Night, is for me, the highlight of this entire record. Following the true story of a senseless murder, Draper’s beautifully deferential falsetto collides with the metallic resonance from the finely picked acoustic guitar, gently blending together to create a hauntingly reverential climate that stuns the listener into a hollow silence. You can really sense change in tone from the previous track without it signalling a sharp contextual change in mood. Despite its off-beat, lazy persona, the vocals carry an effortless saunter, allowing for the small pockets of ancillary elements to saturate the mix in a gentle warmth. Disclosing the climactic point to the story, the final chorus expands into a wall of assiduously connected harmonies, bleeding with emotional cadence as layered pads and delicately swung brushes move in elevated unison in a strikingly reverent display.
‘Theft & The Flight’
The title track, as you would expect, emphasises the EP’s entire inflection in perfect balance. Boisterous in purpose, the initial sequence plays out in unsuspecting fashion, harmonising a chillingly beautiful use of ambient layering with more granular pockets of distortion. The song opens to a moody Johnny Cash-esque guitar sequence as Draper’s signature falsetto grips the mix in a celestial trance. The alluringly crushed drums drive the sequence into a screaming eruption of wailing guitars and a chillingly creepy whistle solo from the man himself; like a lonesome security guard doing the midnight rounds in a mental asylum. As is often in Draper’s musical structure, the track descends into a hushed compound of vocals and tactfully strummed guitars, with cryptic words of “Never Knowing” ringing out in a repetitive cry. As the energy builds towards a frenzy of garishness, the mix pulses into a meandering cacophony of swelling horns sizzling cymbal work and blues-driven guitars. Taking on a sulky, almost capricious persona, it describes the elusive nature of creativity and how inspiration can sneak up on you when you least expect it, leaving you feeling bereft of ever capturing that discovery again.
Last, but by no means least we have Timshel, a contained and pastoral lullaby of expression and contemplation. As the most stripped back and last of the four, it stands as a true representation of Draper’s deliberate switch away from his previous more electronic pastures. Voicing a fresh perspective on using organic sounds, it portrays an elevated air of authenticity; the transparency being the cause of its unrelenting grace.