Jack Cookson – Chamfer
Self Released – April 2018
Jack Cookson’s six-track EP, Chamfer, confirms he is a masterful singer-songwriter not just with catchy and memorable tunes but with a lyrical depth – a dexterous and playful way with words which would challenge composers many times his age.
If you are wondering what place an EP has in a musical landscape that has transcended the sprawling CD album into downloads and streaming, then Chamfer has an answer. It’s six perfectly complementary tracks that shape and shift in different musical directions but maintains a unity of theme and purpose. It’s a perfect little nugget to enjoy in its thoughtfully-sequenced order.
Released last year as a single, the opener, Thistles, bursts to life as a catchy pop/rock tune, Jack’s expressive vocals and guitar, defly complimented by Brogan Bowden’s driving cajón. But, as with all of Jack’s output, it’s what’s under the surface that makes his songwriting stand out.
‘Well the morning is sore, the morning is exposed. In the morning, I awake with my pillowcase stained red. Next time, I’ll just put myself in the washing machine, for a contorted baptism at 30, maybe 40 degrees.’
These opening lines reveal a microcosm of the themes of Chamfer. It’s a gritty collection, body parts and bodily fluids abound: the singer’s been ‘chewed up and spat out’, and later reveals he has ‘…a mouth full of ulcers that I chew until they bleed’, his feelings described as an ‘inky oozing cyst’. This obsession with emissions reveals a writer happy to plough his own depths, both physical and mental.
It is clear that Jack – like many of us – struggles with his own demons, and questions his place in the world, the universe too. Religious themes pepper the songs, alongside the aforementioned washing-machine baptism, there’s talk of a perverted epiphany, church ruins and soul caves.
‘All my life I’ve been hearing folks play the card: ‘if there is a God, why does he let things carry on the way they are?’ – now I’m not trying to excuse him, but if he was here today, I’m sure she could ask us the same thing,’ sings Jack on the reflective Circus. His struggles with faith, doubt and destiny are counter-pointed by the more assured belief of his mother, who he addresses in the closing title track, Chamfer: ‘I’m struggling to give some meaning to my life – and though I say I don’t believe it, you still say you do see; the father, son and holy ghost, watching over my sisters and me.’
I shudder to use the word ‘Millenial’ as it is loaded with so much negativity, but as someone not from that generation, Chamfer helped me get a window into the world of a 20-somethings stumbling to find their place in the world we’ve merrily f—ked up for them. In a darker moment, Jack describes himself as, ‘Just a twenty-something, skin-slitting, meat-eating good for nothing, trying to get my stagnant art somewhere.’
The place that Jack finds solace is clearly in music, but even that can be a hard slog. The third track, Patchouli, places the singer on the harbourside singing someone else’s songs. The female artist with the ‘sun in [her] eyes and the wind in [her] hair’, is viewed by Jack with ‘green eyes’.
There’s a relationship theme that runs through too, and the most optimistic sounding is the second track, Wide Ocean Blue, despite it being about a kiss goodbye. It’s the folkiest and sing-along-able song on the EP. The catchy chorus like a modern sea-shanty. Jack lives in Plymouth and was in Bristol before that, and the mighty English Channel and seafaring vessels are never far away. Sometimes they represent escape – as in Wide Ocean – but elsewhere the water is an unbounding barrier.
Jack’s a talented chap and not only does he play most of the instruments – guitar, bass, harmonica, keys and drums – he also produced the album in his bedroom. It sounds gorgeous, nevertheless, and is pleasingly sonically playful. Chamfer‘s ominous organ was recorded in a chapel in Leuven, Belgium, a mournful singing saw weaves through Circus and there’s a near-literal wig-out at the end of My Imp Of A Mind – Jack snapping strands of his hair for percussion.
Imp is a playful song, sounding like a Tom Waits track channelled through the Divine Comedy, but with a more rocky vocal. It’s a musically diverse collection, and like all skilled songwriters, Jack is unfettered by genre constraints – choosing the vibe to fit the song, mixing and subverting where necessary. Circus, for example, meanders beautifully like a classic Lambchop song – no mean feat.
Chamfer is a mini-masterpiece that rewards multiple listens. A labour-of-love release from this brilliant young artist, the EP is being crowdfunded through IndieGoGo and it’s open for pre-orders until the end of April. So get in quick, if you want to encourage this gifted young artist.
To support the release of the EP visit his pledge page: www.igg.me/at/chamfer