Kylie McCormick argues the case for Nathan Ball being the mouthpiece of a generation with his superb new singleWritten by Kylie McCormick on 12th August 2017
Album Review: Mr Jukes – God First
Jack Steadman's first release as collaborative artist Mr Jukes is a fantastic debut, yet not without its disappointments, writes Thom Dent
To those who aren’t at all familiar with the 2008-2014 British indie scene, Mr Jukes comes across as nothing more than a prematurely bald record-collecting weirdo with a penchant for sampling jazz instrumentals. Those that are familiar with the 2008-2014 British indie scene, however, will know Mr Jukes as the solo project of ex-Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman – who, from the looks of his new Buddhist haircut at least, seems to have been taking his gap year very seriously. Typically then, God First, his debut outing under the Mr Jukes moniker, is completely awash with a rainbow of samples and sounds plucked from the shelves of Steadman’s enormous record library.
The album opens on the sumptuous synth flutters of ‘Typhoon’, which picks up right where the last Bombay record left off – although it’s softer, more subtle, a little less juvenile in the way it’s threaded together. The first two minutes are just a murmuring vocal from Steadman atop a string quartet and low, simmering keyboards, before the track blossoms into an utterly brilliant, watery groove.
And then, just when you think you might have got a sense of what the record’s going to sound like, ‘Angels/Your Love’ comes through and completely throws you in another direction. Here, a boyscout choir competes with huge bursts of brass, while a beat that could have been lifted straight from an A Tribe Called Quest single hops along in the background. The inclusion of a pogoing trumpet duet and the soulful vocal of BJ The Chicago Kid in the song’s latter half makes this one hell of a tune.
“God First is completely awash with a rainbow of samples and sounds plucked from the shelves of Steadman’s enormous record library
In fact, a lot of God First takes inspiration, not from the world music and eastern flavours Jack was sampling back in 2014, but from more westernised genres – vintage soul, jazz, and hip-hop etc. ‘Grant Green’ takes a gospel sample that sounds a bit like something Jay-Z would have used, and features a wicked gospel hook that’s one of the catchiest moments of the whole record. Later on, ‘From Golden Stars Comes Silver Dew’ nicks the smooth jazzrap aesthetic perpetuated by the likes of Loyle Carner and Tom Misch and adds the yoghurty vocal of Lalah Hathaway – to gorgeous effect.
Mr Jukes is, as Steadman has claimed in interviews, designed more as a collaborative project than an outright solo career. It’s for this reason that Steadman himself hides away in the production more than he takes the spotlight – instead letting a plethora of other talent take the fore. Hathaway, BJ, Lianne La Havas and De La Soul are just a few of the names credited throughout the album, arguably the most notable collaboration being the latter’s appearance on ‘Leap of Faith’.
All this being said, there are also plenty of moments on God First where Mr Jukes’ alter-ego is very noticeable. Early track ‘Ruby’ not only features Steadman’s voice in all its wobbly glory, but instrumentally could even pass as a Bombay Bicycle Club track – every sound seemingly borrowed from somewhere on So Long, See You Tomorrow. The closing pair of songs – ‘Tears’ and Lianne La Havas collab ‘When Your Light Goes Out’ – are similarly arranged, the former built around a bassline that reeks of Ed Nash and the latter providing maybe the closest moment that this album gets to genuine indie rock, with its blaring choruses and dazzling synthesisers.
“Steadman himself hides away in the production more than he takes the spotlight – instead letting a plethora of other talent take the fore
Make no mistake – God First is a very worthwhile listen. Steadman seemingly sets out to prove himself as a purveyor of something greater than the music he was able to achieve with his last band, and this debut attempt certainly has moments where he touches upon something truly wonderful. However, while God First is full of great music, I can’t help feel slightly disappointed that Jack didn’t head in a slightly more experimental direction – especially given the success of Bombay Bicycle Club’s genre-bending final outing. The songs here are, mostly, very good, but there is a far smaller array of samples and instruments than many may have been expecting – especially for a man who seemed aching to burst free of the indie rock constraints of his last band. God First is certainly a promising first outing, but here’s hoping that for future releases – be it as Mr Jukes or as any other moniker – Steadman climbs a little further down the rabbit hole.