Paul Jacks first emerged in the music world as a front man and songwriter for Alaska’s Smile Ease in 2004 following a low profile solo single released the previous year. The song “Cowboys and Indians” attracted the attention of like-minded songwriter friends in the Anchorage, Alaska area and led to the band’s first incarnation. They managed two studio releases before transforming into the band Asteroid. He returned to the idea of writing and performing as a solo artist with 2018’s Defractor and its follow-up, In Other Words, is a ten song effort representing a major creative stride forward for this talented singer/songwriter.
It begins with the moody opener “In the Late Dark” which marries an upbeat synth driven and otherwise pre-programmed nuwave arrangement with melancholy lyrics and vocals. One of the defining factors for me listening to this release is the different slant Jacks and collaborator keyboardist Colton Ciufo take towards incorporating vocals with the music. They jettison the typical approach of laying the singing over the top of the backing musical track in favor of tying them together and the seamless flow it achieves on the album’s best songs creates an unified mood a more traditional approach wouldn’t succeed reaching. Jacks’ voice isn’t particularly strong, but it has nuance – he is a canny singer with a good ear for the album’s sonic texture and knows how to place his voice in this aural terrain.
The second track “Kintsu” is one of my favorites from In Other Words. The song begins with a hitting a single staccato piano note over the first few seconds before the full arrangement kicks in and mid-tempo percussion sets the pace. It has a near jaunty bounce playing off against another dark Jacks lyric, but he mitigates the intensity of the writing with one of his best vocal performances. There is a brief break in the song’s second half reminiscent of a similar moment in the first track before it moves towards its conclusion.
There’s a near 80’s pop feel to the album’s title song and a smattering of quasi-organ punctuating Ciufo’s trademark synthesizer glow. Unlike many of the other songs, however, “In Other Words” follows a straight and undeviating line from beginning to end, but the simplified focus of its songwriting is a positive, never a negative
“Do What You Will” is similar to the title song in the sense there are no gymnastics built into its arrangement, but Jacks and Ciufo spike the tempo in comparison and extend themselves over a larger canvas than before. A number of qualities define the songwriting included on In Other Words but one of the key elements is a commitment to leaving out any dross or excess baggage – the tracks are, uniformly, to the point.
“Still Your Passenger” is the shortest track on the album, not even clearing the two minute mark, but manages to pack quite a bit of musical and lyrical substance in a condensed space. It is another of my favorite moments on the release. There are few holes of significance you’ll find on Paul Jacks’ In Other Words – it is a musically effervescent release to my ears that contains new rewards with each new hearing.