- After dropping his impressive debut album in 2012, Jack Latham offered up two stellar online mixes called Earthly in 2013 and 2014. Each laid bare the strains of music that made Classical Curves what it was, throwing Divoli S'vere and Neana together with Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins. But when the third Earthly dropped late last year, it was as if the rigid beats of the first two had melted into a puddle. The woozy Earthly III focused on R&B, rock and pop, foreshadowing the about-face of Latham's second album. Influenced by the slower tempos of dancehall and reggaeton and doled out with guitar, vocals and synths, Dream A Garden is almost unrecognizable as Jam City.
Latham's metamorphosis was a result of a growing dissatisfaction with club culture—or as he put it, an impulse to be "more sensitive." His pining for emotional depth, set against the technological obsession of the modern world, is the main theme of Dream A Garden, an idealistic record that longs for a better day, or at least a reprieve from the troubles of this one.
There's a bustling world of detail beneath the surface. Listen carefully and you'll notice buried samples, odd effects and subtle processing, inverting the electronic precision of Classical Curves to create something more impressionistic. The guitar takes centre stage, bursting out from underneath glitchy noise on "The Garden Thrives" into a dazzling cascade that touches on everything from '80s-era Rough Trade to modern indie pop like The Dum Dum Girls. From there, Dream A Garden waffles between wobbly vocal tracks and dreamy interludes that carry a gleam of the old Jam City magic.
Latham's choice to bury his voice in the music blunts the impact of his vocals, keeping the listener at arm's length even while he wears his heart on his sleeve. There's a summery '80s indie rock anthem somewhere in "A Walk Down Chapel," but Latham's timid performance makes it feel undercooked. Sometimes his awkwardness is charming, especially on a song as earnest as "Unhappy" (though you might have to consult a transcription to figure out what he's saying). The moral of "Unhappy" matches the vaguely utopian sloganeering of Dream A Garden's accompanying manifesto, and its lilting bounce is hard to resist. "Today" laments society's dependence on technology, consumerism and pharmaceuticals. These are obvious, hit-you-over-the-head messages, and their sincerity is one of the album's virtues.
It's hard to decide what's most surprising about the album—its emphasis on songcraft or its overall sonic shift. "Proud," the closing track, helps put it all into perspective, with stronger vocals and a looping guitar riff that connects the dots between the old Jam City and the new in a way that the rest of the LP only manages in fleeting moments. And once the surprise of the new material fades away, there is a lot to love for Jam City fans. For sure, Latham shows some growing pains—such a dramatic departure was never going to be easy. Rather than an earth-shattering opus, Dream A Garden is a stepping stone to a new sound, one with enough promising moments to suggest it's only a matter of time before Latham gets there.
01. The Garden Thrives
02. A Walk Down Chapel
04. Good Lads, Bad Lads
08. Black Friday