Since the release of his self-titled EP in 2019, Matt Jatkola – aka JATK – has slowly built a fine catalogue of recordings. A series of digital singles released throughout the lockdowns of 2020 and ’21 further showcased his great talent for fuzzy, retro, and very 90s derived rock music. With influences ranging from big power pop hooks to introspective shoegaze oriented noise, the one man band has really carved himself a niche within the independent alternative rock underground. JATK’s coolness extends far beyond the music itself, too. When experienced as a whole package, it’s clear that Jatkola has thought very clearly about his brand, with each digital release wrapped within the visuals of a half eaten doughnut. To see each of the JATK digital releases together is almost like reimagining the classic Suede singles in junk food form…and they look great.
Each new release from JATK is a bite sized treat, and at the time of ‘Don’t Call’s arrival, each one comes with a certain amount of expectation, and certainly a pre-conceived idea of the musical style the listener will experience. As if realising this, the performer casts aside his usual Smashing Pumpkins, Cure and Slowdive chops, opting for something completely different. So different, in fact, that you’d never recognise it as JATK at all.
‘Don’t Call’ opens with a slow pulsing bass set against a mechanised beat. The arrival of a vocal brings a massive twist from the JATK norm, in that via the gift of some studio trickery, multi-tracking and pitch adjustment, he sounds like a cross between a female soul trio and a weird teenager. In truth, it’s (very deliberately) the same trick that Prince pulled on tracks like ‘Housequake’ (“I mean, realleh!”) and ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, and it actually works better here. Whilst the legendary Prince often sounded like a pitch adjusted version of his own peach and black self back in 1987, Jatkola is unrecognisable. He’s also got the presence of a full pop choir, and that, set against the slow R&B groove is enough for the track to fly. It’s not quite that basic, of course, and a couple of busier interludes introduce a brilliantly rhythmic groove, and moments of simple piano flesh out the sound in a surprisingly full way. In addition, its tongue in cheek lyrics dealing with isolation (“Spider webs like a spider, man / I been screening my calls like my name was Gwen”) almost carry as much of a cheeky Prince-like mood. The whole package works better than the individual elements, and via a mix of sheer balls and melodic ear, JATK serves a winner with this left field offering. For those who can’t get enough of this number, an alternate mix is supplied where it’s been stripped down to just drums and vocals. Obviously, without the melodic root of the bass and piano, it isn’t quite as appealing in the long term, but the opportunity to explore the basics of the track will certainly be welcomed by some.
‘Don’t Come Knockin’ is actually superior from a purely melodic stance. Most of the vocal trickery is cast aside to allow a really soulful vocal to shine, and musically, JATK whips up a suitably retro musical melody. Lovers of old Motown tunes will recognise a couple of hooks along the way – there’s plenty about its descending riff that borrows from the classic ‘Tracks of My Tears’ – and there’s also massive appeal in the recording’s shimmering guitar work that has just enough echo to detract from the programmed drums. The big draw comes from the vocal itself, and it’s great to hear Matt exploring a clean, melodic cry throughout – part soul, part pop, delivered with an unexpected twang occasionally sounding like peak Jon Bon Jovi – which really lifts the song’s big hook. Musically speaking, there are a couple of modern, indie-ish twists here that almost recall the brilliant ‘Scuzz’ EP from Mats Wawa, as well as traces of Louis Waxman, and these sounds perhaps even hint at Jatkola being a fan of the always brilliant Gregg Alexander. Whichever way you look at it, it’s really solid rock/pop fare, half a world away from JATK’s previous indie/shoegaze, but maybe even better for it.
Although unrecognisable as JATK, this is still brilliant – and that’s the most important thing here. The lead track, especially, really shows how Jatkola is multi-talented, and also unafraid to explore new avenues. As homage to the much missed Prince and some of his more wayward pop experiments, it’s prerry much perfect. And in ‘Don’t Come Knockin’, there’s very much a sense that the performer could easily slide into even more soulful material should he so wish, and despite his strong grounding in retro alt-rock, it wouldn’t seem like an unnatural move. It might all wrong-foot his extant fans, but this small and groove-laden package has everything JATK needs to reach a different kind of listener, and maybe even expand his following at a crucial time. Maybe he’s just recorded this for fun, and that’s cool too, but whichever way you look at it, this maxi-single is a very welcome addition to his growing catalogue.