Album Walkthrough: Jack R. Reilly details his remarkable debut, Middle Everything
One of our acts to watch in 2020 cements his status as one of Australia's most brilliant songwriters with an impeccable debut album.
At the start of every year, we run a feature that predicts the next year's success stories - the acts that we believe will either 1) find a larger sense of commercial success in the year ahead, or 2) those that will elevate themselves on a scale that doesn't have anything to do with sales or streams, in a way that highlights an evolution in songwriting or production for example, or even in ways beyond musical creation. Sydney-based musician Jack R. Reilly was on our 2020 list and for a good reason too, the year prior seeing him turn into somewhat of a musician's musician - aka the type of artist your favourite musician adores - thanks to his warm songwriting that proves comforting in a time of unrest.
Back then, we couldn't quite predict exactly how much unrest there would be in 2020, but one thing we're most certainly grateful for is having Jack R. Reilly's music present as a form of healing; his work being something that can break you down when you need it, then build you back up again often within the space of just a few minutes. It's something we've long-known - "it's lush, warm and comforting like a hug from someone well-loved to you," we said at the start of the year - and throughout the year that's just become more true, especially at a time its most needed.
His new-arriving debut album Middle Everything shows this perhaps better than anything else he's put out. Teased with singles throughout the last 18 months (although the album includes some songs from well before that), Middle Everything is an encapsulation of Jack R. Reilly's craft, emphasising his talents and strengths within them regardless of whether they're at their most mighty and maximalist, or contrastingly, subtle and stripped-back, thick with the rich emotion that's seemingly defined much of his sound throughout the last few years.
Middle Everything is an album that moves between that balance. Who Can Say? sits amongst Jack's most fiery work, with thick-coated percussion and pointed vocals moving amongst a wash of guitars that on I Don't Like to See Us Like This form an almost summer-y haze in its choruses, or on Into The Fire's almost-punk-like rush. They're all songs that have often-dark-lit emotions at their core, but Jack seemingly taps into the frustration and angst that's laden within them, channelling that to create a heavier side of his music.
Compare that to a song like Old Guard, which aches with self-doubt - "I’ll take my shirt off, and look in the mirror / Disgusted at what I might see," he sings - or the potency of a track like Some Days, which doesn't need long-winding verses to show the feelings that inspire the track (the song has only nine lines, each starting with "some days...". It's one of the album's most powerful moments, whether it be musically or emotionally).
In all, it's a reflection of Jack R. Reilly and the use of music as a tool in his life; something used to process and reflect. "Middle Everything is me acknowledging the feelings and thoughts that come up while practising meditation," he explains. "During the writing process I was living alone in Kings Cross and spending a huge amount of time either meditating, or going for really long walks in to and around the city. I’d spend almost every Saturday and Sunday walking around with a notebook, finding little places to write. At night I’d come home and try to work shop those into songs.
"I received a lot of help from my long time producer and studio collaborator, Jonno Tooke (from Cry Club) to bring these songs out of my notebook, and the extreme talent of my live band to bring these songs to life."
It's a brilliant album that all but confirms the talent we found in Jack R. Reilly from the start, and you can take a dive into it below alongside a track-by-track walkthrough that breaks down the album's inner themes and creation, one song at a time.
1. Shaking For Now
Shaking For Now was inspired in part by a phone call I received shortly before my uncle (my auntie’s husband) passed away. I was also inspired in a physical therapy technique that my Mum practices and teaches called TRE (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises). I found this practice really helpful with managing anxious and depressive moods, so the lyric “I can’t stop shaking for now” is sort of saying, “I can’t stop this, because it’s really helpful."
2. Who Can Say?
Who Can Say? Is about my ongoing meditation practice. It’s an acknowledgment of how, for me, the practice of meditation has been built as a permanent structure in my life, and how at times it can be frustrating. I sometimes wish I can skip the work and just simple “Achieve enlightenment” or something. But, a big part of the practice is just noting and acknowledging feelings and thoughts in a way to better understand my tethering to them.
3. I Don’t Like To See Us Like This
This song is about being able to communicate that a relationship isn’t working. Sometimes things just have to end.
Blood is also a meditation of frustration. Of feeling as though I’m just working all the time. Where it differs from Who Can Say is that I’m more leaning into it, throwing myself into the flood. Being honest with myself is a really liberating thing, and I’m feeling it the frustration eases and I can remind myself that the work is the actual reward.
5. Old Guard
Old Guard is me stripping myself completely bare. Reflecting on myself and taking stock and looking where I want to go from here.
6. Where You Find Yourself
This is a conceited effort to acknowledge my happiness. That I feel happy and at peace when I submit myself to the idea that so much is actually out of my control, and that things just happen.
7. Title Dictates Behaviour
This was originally recorded in 2016, on an EP called Video Tapes, where I told my own stories through the prism of late 80s - early 90s cinema. This song was inspired by the Kevin Smith film Clerks and is from the perspective of the character Randal. It’s about wanting to improve myself and promising to try and be a better person.
8. Into The Fire
This song is about questioning my sense of identity. The idea that so much of what I invest my energy to is really flippant and fleeting.
9. Some Days
This is exploring the eves and flows of my sadness and my hurt. How it is transient and comes and goes like waves.
10. Newland Street
Newland Street was originally recorded in 2017 and was my first attempt at writing about my mindfulness meditation practices. I deal with the ideas attached to my meditation a lot on this record, so it made sense to put my first exploration of it as a subject at the end of the album.
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