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Polaroids Of Androids

Record Reviews


Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders

"I know I'm on a sinking ship"

This line from opening track Beautiful Sound says it all. Hurtsville sounds like the calm, dreamlike descent of man. The ship sinks, the heart sinks, and the twee innocence of Ladder's previous releases sinks below the weight of Hurtsville. And it all happens gracefully — as if in slow motion. Ladder has finally come to grips with what he's trying to do, embraced, and released a record almost without preoccupation.

With his first two albums Jack Ladder depicted himself as an aloof troubadour. But with Hurtsville he's adopted the more naturally fitting role of deeply jaded sleaze bag, a slightly uneasing persona which suits the record's dark alleyway swagger perfectly. Cold Feet is perhaps the best example of this, with Ladder perfectly depicting himself as the gloomy, downtrodden guy in the corner. Confident, yet unlucky. The guy on his own slow wave. Cold Feet is steady, atmospheric, sinister and assured. It's truly fine songwriting wrapped up in some great production from Burke Reid.

The production really deserves special mention here. Burke has succeeded in rounding up the deep delivery of Ladder, as well as adding a wavering and spacious synth sound that permeates throughout. Contrasted strongly by the mercurial guitar playing of Kirin J Callinan, the understated production is one of the record's standout features. Nothing is overdone or grappling for your attention and this subtle approach contributes greatly to the quality of Hurtsville.

The first three songs — Beautiful Sound, Cold Feet and Hurtsville — are the album's clear highlights. They're all coldly beautiful and bleak, and they all touch on the cutthroat nature of love and it's ability to rip your soul out. The album's title track in particular hits on this, as well as delving deep into the monotonous and deathly nature of suburban life. While this subject matter is nothing particularly new, what sets these tunes apart from Ladder's earlier work is that they display his seemingly new found ability to channel his own subconscious and his own genuine pain rather than relying on re-tracing the standard 'Waitsisms' or 'Caveisms'. For the most part Hurtsville feels like it's lyrically coming from a real place where innocence is dead and the heart is firmly on the sleeve. Beautiful Sound is a great example of this. It's grimy, pessimistic, and insightful. And it's clear evidence that Ladder has developed into a fantastic songwriter.

In saying that Hurtsville comes almost without preoccupation, one could specifically attach a certain level of apprehension to the album's two slight hiccups — Dumb Love and Blinded by Love. It would be easy to simply say that these tracks sound too much like Cave or Cohen, and whilst this is true, it's not the only issue. They show Ladder reverting to a safer place both lyrically and in his delivery, where it's clear that he cares what we think, and that he's striving for a certain aesthetic rather than just letting his guts flow out. They are still well structured songs, but being on this record and sitting amongst otherwise floating and at times transcendent tracks, they represent grounded missteps.

Rarely does an album make you feel like letting go of the life raft, sinking beneath the surface, waving goodbye to the plebs and drifting dreamily into oblivion. But to its eternal credit, this one does. If only for 50 minutes.

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Record Reviews
Jack Ladder


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Talking about Waits-isms, what about that cover art?!

9 years ago

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