JATK – Shut Up And Be The Light

Since the release of their 2019 EP, JATK – a band featuring Matt Jatkola and a revolving cast of friends – has slowly built a solid online following. A series of digital singles released throughout the lockdowns of 2020 and ’21 showcased some great and fuzzy, retro rock music, but also seemed unafraid to throw a few pop influences into the mix. This showed a band who were keen to avoid easy labelling; a band starting out on an adventurous path, and a band who had the potential to deliver a rich and varied full length release somewhere down the track. Simply put, JATK quickly marked themselves out as a very cool collective.

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ENVY OF NONE – Envy Of None

Alex Lifeson is a legend. More importantly, he’s a legend that’s never been afraid of musical change. The early Rush albums introduced fans to a hard edged and very distinctive guitar sound; the classic era of Rush from 1980-91 found him exploring various cleaner sonic textures that were distinctive in a very different way, but equally as cool. His Victor project from 1996 showed how his complex approach could be applied to a whole range of rock moods, and while some of that album’s heavier moments didn’t sit well with everyone, it was a very interesting release.

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CAT DOWLING – Animals

The former vocalist with Irish electronica/alt-pop band Alphastates, Cat Dowling strikes gold on her 2021 release ‘Animals’. With its mix of jangling guitars, occasional dreampop-ish haze and a few busy rhythms, the core of the album’s best material shifts restlessly, but never in a way that seems showy, or ever feels directionless. Most importantly, Cat’s desire to constantly move between moods never detracts from some deftly written songs. Whether at the helm of loud-ish rocky numbers, or lending a sultry vocal to an ambling 90s influenced tune, or even tackling jazzy pop, the performer shines throughout, and her unshakable presence is vital in taking a genuinely mixed bag of tunes and turning that into something that sounds like a complete and coherent listening experience. The vocals are recognisable as being those from the Alphastates singer, but musically, so much of ‘Animals’ is a different beast; if you were feeling flippant, you might consider it a “grown up pop record”, but it’s so much more than that.

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JATK – Don’t Call / Don’t Come Knockin’

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.

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HOWARD JONES – At The BBC

Beginning with their massive box set celebrating ‘Human’s Lib’ issued in November 2019, Cherry Red Records have really gone the extra mile with their Howard Jones reissues. Each release has been afforded a wealth of extras, including bonus DVDs featuring archive live footage and TV appearances where available, and the addition of demos and alternate takes accompanying the main albums has been a fan’s dream. It was especially pleasing to see some love for Howard’s 1992 release ‘In The Running’, an album which saw him transition from 80s synth pop hero to a slicker, older singer-songwriter. Although overlooked by many at the time, it now stands proudly as one of the most enduring albums in the artist’s catalogue.

Complimenting the vastly expanded studio albums, this five disc box set of live materials allows for a different kind of exploration of HoJo’s past, but in hearing performances recorded between 1983-87 it really brings home the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest synth pop performer of the era.

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