Since the breakout of his irresistible, soulful cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” and debut EP Thinking in Textures, Nick Murphy under the moniker Chet Faker found himself riding a viral tide of success. But over the past two years, the young downtempo musician had been living the life of a soul man. In his modest North Melbourne home studio, Faker crystallized intricate thoughts into a full-fledged soul collection. His new album Built on Glass dropped last week on the Sydney label Future Classic.
Chet Faker, a stage name and homage to the legendary jazz vocalist-trumpeter, Chet Baker, is also a heartfelt act that lives up to the style and appeal of his muse. Drawing from Chet Baker’s intimate, broken vocals, Faker unwinds his edgy, electronic sounds with classic charisma and subtlety. What really makes his music different are the elements of unconcealed sincerity and emotionality found in his thoughtful lyrics and elaborate compositions.
Built on Glass‘s twelve tracks feature in two two halves, as a before and after snapshot of a couple gone wrong. Faker explores the breakdown of a relationship and its progressive affect on his music. The first half of the album, written when he was seeing someone, features a slow-groove collection that reflects the optimism of the pair’s togetherness. In contrast, the latter songs show Faker ruminating on desolation, desperation and loss after his messy breakup. The bedroom songwriter has adequately transposed his hopes and fears into the album to create a soundscape made of timeless genres like retro house, R&B and jazz.
The album starts off with mellow R&B jam “Release your Problems,” where cool Rhodes piano melodies soak up the listener’s worries and let them go. The tempering bass line and reggae beats fuse to deliver this emotional free fall.
Lead single “Talk is Cheap” finds Faker arriving at the depth of his mind, and walking a thin line between plain outspokenness and cautious self-reflection. On the one hand, he tries to dispel his lover’s “weak rhyme” and insecurity, making her confident about their relationship. This effort manifests itself in the solemn mood, with sultry saxophone fills that bring out the persuasiveness of a jazzy-funk rhythm. But the meandering tempo and dragging intensity also hint at Faker’s subtle awareness of a “cold pain” inflicted steadily by the cracks in a shared life. “Talk is Cheap” exemplifies the sharp, reflective approach Faker takes to produce his music, and the fragility he feels while making it.
This fragile tension crystalizes as the album progresses, especially in the charismatic collaboration “Melt.” Faker and Brooklyn rapper-vocalist Kilo Kish share mental monologues in a cyclic “breaking-bones” guessing game. Over a staggering electronic groove, Faker admits to the vulnerability of being consumed by the melting thoughts of his girl.
The upbeat relationship finally crumbles with a set of doomsday tracks: the disco-infused “1998” and “Cigarettes & Loneliness.” Held together by a sustained clinking backdrop, Faker musters the strength to breathe consolations dubbed with harmonies. “This is love without love, without love, without love,” he sings on “Cigarettes & Loneliness.” Faker gives in to his fragile, human self, at last confessing, “Over my dead body, I will never shake this feeling away,” and leaves the poignant soul guitar of “Dead Body” alone to pick up the fragments of his broken heart.
Chet Faker’s new album shatters the barrier between art and identity, and shows that it’s okay to be fragile. Although exposing his vulnerable side opens his scar tissue up to judgement by anyone, his bravery proves that he’s done the right thing. It is clearly in this new (de)fenceless space that Faker’s creativity bleeds and flows.