Review: Jam City – Dream A Garden LP

“Things were looking bad today / I didn’t know what to say / And the sirens are far away / But I never ever felt this way.” So ends “Crisis”, a B-side number from Jam City’s second album, Dream A Garden. The words, and the voice singing them, are Jack Latham’s own – a confirmation of the Night Slugs veteran’s multifaceted nature and a refreshing, rule-bending approach to releasing music. Indeed, Latham has long been dubbed a shapeshifter and a musician you can’t quite get a handle on. Musing on his debut album, Classical Curves, Rory Gibb at The Quietus closes with: “It’ll be interesting to see where Latham takes things from here, but it’s probably not worth attempting to predict.” Gibb’s prediction of the unpredictable is spot-on in terms of musicality. Instead of being all “geometric and jagged edge[s]”, Dream a Garden is woozy and organic. A hopeless romance underpins the entire composition – it’s heart-bursting stuff. Wah-wah guitars smirk and intros loiter, while tempos and rhythms soak in funk, boogie and jazz. A bit like Prince, but think walks home from the club in summer sunrise.

Yet at times, surrounding the album’s reverberating vocal chants, the musical construction is industrial and apocalyptic: the levels seem all wrong and snare drums are either splutter or knotted cackle. Bits that sound like soaring climaxes come at strange times, like in the album’s opener, “The Garden Thrives”; the first section is a shower of bullets from a firing squad, before it relents and you’re immersed in a scene, walking light-footed down a street, any street, gasping synths taking you, uncaring, to nowhere. This holding back and toying with tension does in fact exist in much of Latham’s work; even Classical Curves, a club album in essence, dared not exhale fully. The producer never quite putting his foot down so the music could propel like a tour bus along a motorway.

There is one thing, however, that marks a stark difference between Dream A Garden and any previous work: there is a clear political agenda. Many will have already seen the press release being circulated by the artist and his fans on social media (click here to view). Within it, Latham explains his intention: “No hope, no future, a constant war raging in the peripheries. / I wanna laugh about it / But I just can’t laugh about it. / And so it is then, this is a record about love and resistance.” The album, he says, is a “rejection of our fate as the generation raised on empty promises, SSRIs and indefinite war; curtains closed, alienated from our bodies, our voices, our earth.”

This idea of alienation is one that surely rings true with many: the real is becoming more and more abstracted with the media, insidious politicians and overwhelming capitalist control all smothered in Orwellian language, warping our perception and clouding our view. His website also explores this concept. To get to where you want to be, you have to click through pop-up style images of media cutouts, lonely hearts ads and gun-toting police officers before you land at the video for “Unhappy”, unhappy. Latham illustrates that, with the world at our fingertips and our brains rammed with knowledge at rates we can’t control, we seem, weirdly, more powerless than ever. Within this context, the smiling riffs in “Proud”, bubbling melodies in “Today”, and lazy, lovely sounds in the mockingly named “Good Lads, Bad Lads” take on a different, more sinister, meaning. In one way, Dream A Garden aims to reflect back on the listener – or consumer – the world in which we live, and accept. Latham dares us to keep ignoring – to keep clicking past – the misery.

Funny then, how the press release seems to use and manipulate the techniques Latham so condemns: aware of his audience as big-time-internet-using, music-news-guzzling listeners, he makes use of the highly visual culture we enjoy, where music is not just an aural experience but an interactive one. Vivid orange-red backdrop with script in white, this manifesto provides us with preconceptions that, once read, we can’t shake. Perhaps he is urging us to think for ourselves. But to label the album as totally cynical would be to discredit it. What is the garden that features in the album title and tracklist? Dream a garden, Latham demands, the garden thrives, he tells us. What is the garden? Thriving, to dream. The words certainly hold positive connotations, ones of hope, change and growth.

Jam City’s Dream A Garden LP is out March 23 on Night Slugs. Preorder here.

Erin Mathias