“I got lost,” sings Jack Peñate in the opening moments of his third album, ‘After You’. It’s a very true-to-life statement on a record that arrives 10 years since the Londoner released his last album, 2009’s ‘Everything Is New’. Instead of trying to keep up with the ever-changing trends of the last decade, Peñate finished touring that last album, took a break and set about learning how to oversee the entire recording process himself. It took a lot longer than he expected.
In the interim, he gave us flashes of music that suggested a return was imminent. In 2012, there was the sparse ‘No One Lied’ and last year he shared a mixtape called ‘A Thousand Faces’. Neither was swiftly followed by anything fuller; both were pitstops on the journey to ‘After You’.
Peñate travelled around the world – from London to New York and Oxford to Peru – writing his new album. Peru inspired the almighty closer ‘Swept To The Sky’, an epiphanic piece in which the musician again returns to the idea of being lost, this time “on the side of the mountain”. Instead of feeling bogged down and trapped, though, the gleaming piano feels like something of a Eureka moment – the cracking of the code that helped Peñate make it back to us. It’s also one of the most gorgeous tracks he’s ever written, the kind of song that can turn a commute crushed into a stranger’s armpit – or any mundane, grey day – into something much more magical.
Peñate sounds full of confidence across the whole record, hopping from sound to sound, idea to idea. ‘Prayer’ kicks everything off with gospel strains, ‘GMT’ takes shape through low-key beats and glittering keys and ‘Loaded Gun’ has the atmosphere of a lost Lennon and McCartney composition.
After a decade being largely MIA, it would have been easy for Peñate to play it safe, but ‘After You’ is full of experiments, not least in the album’s centrepiece, ‘Gemini’. Over a twirling piano melody, his uncle, the artist Fabian Peake, recites lines from The Rhyme Of The Flying Bomb, a poem written by his grandfather, the poet Mervyn Peake.
Spending such a long time away could have been a risk – a return that ended up more Tom Vek than Jamie T. But ‘After You’ shows an artist rejuvenated and fired up, and hopefully back on track to stick to a more timely release schedule in the next decade.
Release date: November 29
Label: XL Recordings