Three years after the acclaimed HURTSVILLE and a move from the inner city of Sydney to the Blue Mountains, Jack Ladder returns with his new album Playmates. The album is produced by Kim Moyes of The Presets, and mixed by David Wrench (Jungle, FKA Twigs, Caribou, Seekae). The Dreamlanders (Kirin J. Callinan, Laurence Pike, Donny Benet) reunite to play on the record, with Sharon Van Etten contributing vocals to two tracks.
The first taste of the album, 'Come On Back This Way,' showcases a newfound lightness, weaving a glistening synth melody with a chorus duet and wordless backing from Van Etten. Its video was directed by Alex Smith (Coldplay, Peaches & Iggy Pop). Premiered on Stereogum, he is praised as a "surrealist crooner" and that the song "sets Ladder's haunting baritone against jaunty karaoke-lounge synth sounds. It's an eerie song in its own right, but Alex Smith's video lifts it to Lynchian heights."
Playmates will be Jack Ladder's fourth album, and the first on his own label, Self Portrait. His previous two albums (2008's Love Is Gone and 2011's HURTSVILLE) were shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize. It's been a long journey to this point, as his life as the former bassist for Expatriate seems like a lifetime ago. After the masterpiece that was HURTSVILLE, Jack Ladder has evolved again, moving on from the darker roads into the curious, bold komische synthesizers which backlight Playmates. Ladder's latest work cogently recalls a time when albums were made to the parameters of the encroaching technology of the compact disc. But this album is where songs take precedence over an idea.
Playmates songs are muscular, raw -- yet polished to the texture of a skyscraper. The lyrics themselves are haunting; they possess the poetic slur of a black-pupilled vision of romantic despair, love's unsure footing and a palpable air of Ballardian discord beneath the surface. The songs pulse with life. Synthesizers and drum machines rub shoulders with glam guitars and pedal steel, while above all, Ladder's granite baritone slashes at love and darkness like a heavy blade. He is a tender, persistent lover; a despairing prince at the battlements.
There is also the notable presence of Sharon Van Etten. On working with Jack Ladder, she says, "When I first saw Jack Ladder...it blew me away. He's got a darkness to his vocals and lyrics but with a wink. It was really fun and an interesting challenge and his songs are killer. I feel lucky to have been a part of it." Playmates' breadth of ideas, its sinister anxiety-dream lyrics and particular vision of the world offer us as complete a view of this unfathomable Jack Ladder character as we are ever likely to observe in this dimension.