There’s always been a strange sense of beauty in melancholia and pain when conveyed in music. Whether it is how relatable or genuinely makes the listener empathise well beyond belief, that’s still up for debate. What definitely is known, however, is that Jack River manages to expertly pull off her debut album Sugar Mountain and makes you want to just give her the biggest of hugs.
As the first album of the artist also known as Holly Rankin, you’re exposed to the sugary highs of sweet pop, whilst also left mourning within the depths of despair and complete heartbreak. A forewarning to those either reading this, or listening to the album: You’re going to have a good time listening to the album, but you’ll be sad, and you won’t know why. One of the reasons is the personal tragedy that tinges much of Jack River’s lyrics. The loss of her sister fourteen years ago left Rankin in a state of despair, turning to song-writing as a vice to help her through something that no one should really ever have to deal with.
On a bright note, the album is a pearler. There are the reasonably upbeat tracks, which come in the shape of the pre-release singles. Most notably is “Ballroom”, a song of pure grace, a killer chorus, and just a hint of real depression. A comment on people’s ability to hide their true moments of sadness, “Ballroom” is Sugar Mountain at its peak.
Following “Ballroom” is “Confess”. I’ll admit (or is that confess?) that every time I listened to this song before writing this article, the opening chords left me thinking she was about to cover the classic Starland Vocal Band tune “Afternoon Delight”. While it would have been great to include the cover on the album, “Confess” is actually a much better track.
“Limo Song” sets itself on a steady course through the entirety of its run, as it explores the prospects of being caught in the past while trying to progress with your life. Much like “Limo Song”, “So High” allows Rankin to showcase a range of vocal takes and ranges, as you’re left coming to terms with the tones and themes of the album, as the layers of the song slowly unveil themselves.
Rankin is obviously a smart businessperson, as evidenced through her business Hopeless Utopian; the parent company to her Electric Lady tours and the annual Grow Your Own festival held in her hometown of Forster. This business savvy is transferred somewhat into her music. With input provided by co-producers Xavier Dunn and John Castle, and mixer Spike Spent, Jack River obviously knows how to get the people going; allowing the listener to find a little bit of themselves in the extremely well crafted tracks.
You can picture “Stardust & Rust” as being the moment in a live set, just before the ending of the main set, where everyone has fallen under the spell of Jack River, and don’t want that moment to end. Admittedly, the best songs on the albums have already been released. “Fool’s Gold” and “Fault Line” are the true triumph moments of Sugar Mountain. With an almost No Doubt vibe to the track, “Fault Line” is the track you come back to time and time again. Just as “Fault Line” does, “Fool’s Gold” is pure bliss from start to finish.
As a first up album, there’s no doubt Jack River has had to deal with more demons already than you’d truly ever want to. It’s a testament to the artist and person that Holly Rankin is. She’s managed to release an album of pure class and beauty, whilst willingly and knowingly making herself open to the public gaze.
Review Score: 8.3 out of 10.
Sugar Mountain is out now through I OH YOU.