It’s been more than three years since we last heard from Jape, but it feels closer to ten. Their Choice Music Prize-winning album ‘Ocean of Frequency’ hit a sweet spot between danceable tunes and electro-indie anthems. As we move from one body of water to another, on new album, ‘This Chemical Sea’, Richie Egan & Co just about keep the ship pointing in the right direction.
A resident of Sweden since 2012, it seems the Swedes’ love of Eurovision (unlike us, they love it even when they’re not winning) has rubbed off, but Richie Egan has clearly been reconnecting with 90s dance music of late. Opener, and latest single, Seance Of Light is a bonafide floor filler while the piano riff underpinning the chorus of first single, The Heart’s Desire, is achingly 90s, in a good way. Later, on Metamorphosis, Giorgio Moroder-inspired synth arpeggios carry us back to both late 70s Donna Summer and Daft Punk’s summer of 2013.
However, this is no Ocean Of Frequency Part 2. While Jape’s last effort was littered with upbeat, uptempo tracks they are far more scarce on this effort. Taken on its own languid terms, though, it’s a rewarding listen and the songs still have the ever-unfolding sonic depth that we have come to expect from Jape.
The “chemicals” of the titular sea, are not the type that are caused by BP oil rig disasters. No, these are the self-administered type, both over-the-counter and under the bridge. Egan ponders the point of it all, acknowledging the highs and lows of the ways that we seek to escape reality both through legal and illegal means. It’s a concept album of sorts, with the battle raging between reality and fantasy and how to tell which one is which. In The Heart’s Desire the voice of experience is saying “one day you’ll wonder if it was real / Things fell asunder / how did it feel?”. On the more subdued Without Life In The Way we are told, “without life in the way / in this world we can stray / nothing’s real anyway”. The lines are continually blurred.
On Seance Of Light a somewhat exhausted sounding Egan despairs: “A confident mind is happy to stray / until it comes down until it is time / to fend for itself and deal with its world / that terrifies some / I know I should care but it doesn’t seem real”. A séance is a method of communicating with spirits that live in another reality entirely. In Jape’s seance of light we’re told we’ve been “hiding from life”, but really we’re hiding from the perceived reality.
On I Go, in vocals treated to the point of Phil Collins, Egan laments wasted youth in more direct fashion: “how many years spent polluting our bodies, how many years on the town, another sunrise peeking our eyes…. I should change before I go”. Which makes the song sound pretty heavy going, which it is in a way, until just before the end when it breaks down into a brief ecstatic crescendo, giving us hope that we have not in fact pissed our lives away ingesting a sea of chemicals.
While this narrative is compelling, at times it seems like the songs have suffered as a result. It’s difficult to ponder the nature of reality, why we try to escape it and the consequences of this escapism while sounding like you’re having a great time. Egan’s vocals have never been the most ebulient, but here they sound especially subdued. Sometimes this works beautifully, like on the title track which closes out the album, a beautifully heartbreaking ode which sums up much of the album, asking “if there’s living in life could you show me some?”. However his somewhat naive suggestions for dealing with depression – that a good laugh is the way to get over a bad week, rather than heading for the medicine cabinet – are unlikely to break new ground in psychiatric medicine.
This is an album for headphones. We look forward to the next one that we can blast from our speakers.