“Always different, always the same” is how John Peel once famously described The Fall, but he could easily have been describing Australia’s Jack Ladder (real name Tim Rogers.) With each release, Rogers has proven himself to be an artist willing to experiment with form, genre and tone, without ever sacrificing the elements of his music that make him who he is. On Playmates, Rogers embraces the electronic sounds of the 80’s, but underneath the hypnotic shimmer of the record’s outermost layers lies the beating heart of a wholly original artist.
Rogers’ voice has never sounded as confident or assured as it does on Playmates. In the past lazy journalists compared his rich baritone vocals to those of Nick Cave (perhaps because Nick Cave was the only other deep voiced Australian artist they knew?), but such comparisons are even more unfounded on this record. Rogers’ voice is entirely his own, and drips with a rich sensuality and control that is most impressive on tracks like album closer Slow Boat to China or the evocative Our Ascension. Indeed, even when singing along with as distinctive a performer as Sharon Van Etten, who guests on two tracks, Rogers more than holds his own.
The tone of the album is ultimately one of damaged sensuality. The tracks are sexy, but in a way that never ignores the pain and darkness that lust can bring. A sad/sexy highlight is definitely Come On Back This Way, a song that layers Rogers’ lip curling vocal delivery (just listen to the way he sings “the streets are full of piss” and imagine the controlled sneer that must be on his face); and lush, exotic instrumentation.
Reputation Amputation is another album standout. Coming out of left field, but not in a way that jars or hurts the experience, the song blisters and boils with a primal rage. Whereas the other songs on the album brim with potential energy, Reputation Amputation, with its powerful, J.G. Ballard-esque lyrical content, bubbles over into total chaos in a way that is immediately satisfying.
Playmates was released to Australian fans back in November; now the rest of the world gets to experience the stunning work. Ultimately, the two part release means that Playmates manages to be not only one of the best releases of 2014, but one of the highlights of 2015 too.