Review Summary: We used to be friends...
Indie, R&B, and electronic music used to be strictly defined genres with very little crossover, in terms of audience and sound. While R&B as a whole has almost always been fairly visible and mainstream, bands described as ‘indie’ and any sub-genre of electronic have been mostly categorized as a niche concern. Since around the late 2000s, however, genres have blended and interacted with each other far more often, and while numerous bands have always messed around with various sounds, today those same tendencies are seen as far less experimental and more commonplace in the modern landscape of music. Artists such as James Blake, How To Dress Well, Jessie Ware and the like have been melding sounds often found in R&B, soul, electronic, and various strains of dance music to great effect, and Chet Faker is another name that can be added to that list.
With Built On Glass, Chet Faker expands his palette into woozy, disorienting electronic-based music to mostly great effect. Originally garnering attention for his cover of ‘No Diggity’ and his Thinking In Textures EP, the Australian musician’s debut album sees him ditching the gravelly voiced affectation of his earlier music for more clarity in sound and production. His vocal work has a lot in common with the ‘90s/early ‘00s movement of neo-soul, and the first half of this album ably demonstrates his ability to modernize that now established sound. Songs like ‘Release Your Problems’ and ‘To Me,’ while not being anything innovative, show his range as a musician and his great ear for production. He also occasionally dabbles in slower, hazier sounds that are more akin to downtempo and ambient music. However, his vocals and overall presence separate him from those categories, and occasionally, the vocals do get in the way.
Both ‘Talk Is Cheap’ and ‘Melt’ both suffer from out of place vocals, coming from a poorly placed vocal run sample and Kilo Kish’ verse, respectively. And while ‘No Advice’ is pleasant, it doesn’t add up to much in the context of the album. A small interlude splits the album down the middle and is the overall turning point (for the better) for Glass. Both ‘1998’ and ‘Cigarettes & Loneliness’ favor loose, repetitious structures, dejected, almost mumbled melodies, and some of the strongest lyrics on the entire album. ‘1998’ is a long form, lumbering house track and ‘Cigarettes’ harkens back to the early ‘00s laptop-pop of Dntel and The Postal Service, but with the focus on broken relationships and an overall feeling of fumbling sadness. Along with ‘Lesson In Patience,’ these songs make up a third of the overall album’s runtime and the strongest stretch of music found on this album. When Faker decides to return to the moody R&B on the last track, it’s more confident and better than anything on the first half of the album, and demonstrates a strengthening of his music as a whole.
Built On Glass works best when Faker allows his music time to stretch out and loop itself firmly into the listener’s head. The more he moves away from well worn tropes of R&B and electronic genres, the more Glass seems to move and breathe in a way that is unique to Faker, while also being a strong addition to the current canon of his contemporaries. Built On Glass may not be perfect, but it demonstrates that Chet Faker has numerous strengths as a musician and producer, and likely has a couple of surprises up his sleeve for later releases.