Garret “Jacknife” Lee is best known as the hotshot producer of U2, Snow Patrol, R.E.M. and many more. The Jacknife Lee, however, is a showcase for the studio mastermind as an artist. Buzzing with kinetic energy, it skilfully mixes many eclectic styles of left-field electronic music and includes guest appearances from various artists of differing styles and backgrounds.
Taking songs like the single ‘I’m Getting Tired’, which features Earl St. Clair and Beth Ditto chanting urgently over a propulsive beat and staggering synth bassline, or the brassy, psychedelic hip hop of ‘Made It Weird’, which features an effortlessly cool vocal from rapper/comedian Open Mike Eagle, you’d think the hodgepodge of sounds would lead to something messy and incoherent. Lee, however, ties these disparate elements into an album that not only pops but flows seamlessly. His use of recurring string samples, and careful consideration of the album’s sequence and pacing, certainly helps.
Lee’s use of his project to spotlight lesser-known artists is commendable. Opening track ‘Flutter’ features Ghanaian-Australian singer Genesis Owusu over churning bass, while ‘Hit the Bell’ features Haviah Mighty spit fire against a dreamy vocal melody from Sneaks. Many of the album’s best moments come from these examples. Kenyan bilingual rapper Muthoni Drummer Queen is in complete control of ‘Sisi Wabaya”s overblown and choppy rhythms. On ‘Firewalls’ Petite Noir shifts shape constantly, swapping slowly building soundscapes for weird vocal samples and distorted breakbeats.
This risk vs. reward approach does as much to harm the album as it does to help it, however. The higher profile the artist, the weaker the track it seems. In contrast to showcases featuring his lesser-known peers, Aloe Blacc’s appearance on the lovesick ‘I Gave You Everything’ is predictable. Elsewhere, the aforementioned ‘I’m Getting Tired’ loses impact for sounding too much like earlier big beat releases. ‘Made It Weird’ lacks compelling lyricism from a featured artist who can do better.
Nevertheless, in its eclecticism, The Jacknife Lee reflects both the adopted L.A. home of its creator and his global viewpoint. While the album does point to his resident city’s rich underground scene, it also gives a voice to the lesser heard at a time when anti-racist protests rage across the United States. For fans of electronica in all its forms, this is an essential listen. For everybody else, it’s an enjoyable one.