For most of his creative endeavours as Jape, Richie Egan has been juxtaposing traditional guitar-based songwriting with electronic synth textures. It’s evident in his first big single ‘Floating’ in 2007, which found a complementary version courtesy of a Prins Thomas remix right up to 2011’s Ocean Of Frequency, where the marriage of both sides of his musical palette: a folk-leaning songwriter and a synth gear-head was most comfortable on tracks like ‘The Oldest Mind’ and ‘You Make The Love’.
The fifth Jape album, This Chemical Sea, made with band member Glen Keating, is the first released since Egan uprooted his life and family to Malmö in Sweden and that distance has encouraged a clarity of vision that translates to these two sides being more suitable bedfellows than ever.
The album’s recording was halted by the death of Egan’s mother, which lead to Egan taking up meditation. Perhaps as a by-product, This Chemical Sea has a contemplative serenity.
‘Séance of Light’, the album’s opening track, and perhaps single strongest song is indicative of the album as a whole; tightly-woven instrumentation that has a dancefloor quality but addresses a tangible experience: in this case: the unreal way in which we experience the world through a screen.
Tempo-wise, the album maintains a regular gait which means that it moves swiftly along: bass, chords and synths rise to meet the chorus on ‘The Heart’s Desire’; a bed of twinkling synth notes prop up the halluccinatory arrangement of ‘Metamorphosis’ a song which channels the kind of soft gentle sonics that Caribou is now a master of, the song, as if knowing the reference, has Egan singing “sun” repeatedly.
Egan’s mother is addressed on ‘Breath Of Life’, before ending on one of the most beautiful sections of the record: a calming elegiac succession of piano notes.
Things slow down only for the breather of ‘Without Live In The Way’ which hinges on a bassline and harmonies and the strong closing title track which reverberates around a simple piano note and reinforces the album’s sonic allure. There is rightly, no room here for an acoustic ballad.
The soft transparency to the production is helped greatly by David Wrench who mixed and mastered the album, and whose considered imprint can most recently be heard on top notch productions from Caribou, FKA Twigs and Jungle; three of the best sounding records of the last year. Those albums have a clear spaciousness that they share with This Chemical Sea.
Most obviously this is felt in ‘Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon’, a song co-written with Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, that underwent a metamorphosis from an acoustic demo to a full-fledged six minute electronic dance-leaning jam. Its song structure is loose and it has an admirable hypnotic arrangement that Wrench accentuates in body and depth.
This Chemical Sea often feels like its floating above the physical and unmoored from the sum of its parts, that give the songs a unique identity in the Jape discography. It is a collection of serene electronic songcraft: meditative, lucid and unbound.