Review: Jake Bugg – Hearts That Strain

Jake Bugg frustrates me as a songwriter. His debut, Jake Bugg was a slow burn that quietly became one of my favorite records when it debuted a few years ago. Each subsequent record has been vastly different than the last, to mixed results. But one thing I am fully aware of is that at 23 years old, Jake Bugg is a force of nature that will be here for a long time.

You can buy Hearts That Strain on iTunes.

Hearts That Strain, Bugg’s fourth full length, follows suit with his previous works in that it is completely different from anything else he has put out. While his debut, an acoustic tribute to Oasis and Shangri La, was a grunge punk album, Hearts That Strain is a classic country tinged album that seems to channel John Denver in all the best ways.

What sets Bugg apart as a songwriter is how vastly different his work is, especially for someone whose debut album was released four years ago. While I initially fell in love with his ‘don’t give a shit’ acoustic songs that oozed with personality, on Hearts That Strain, Bugg blends a dreamlike homage to outlaw country with influence from the Gallagher brothers.

Hearts That Strain is Bugg’s most cohesive album to date. It doesn’t sound nearly as slap-dash as some of his earlier work, and is far more fleshed out than earlier records. However, the lyricism is more vague and doesn’t seem to have the same storytelling aspects of his classic, “Broken”.

Though his songwriting has always had a hint of bluesy southern rock to it, it is absolutely astonishing that Bugg is able to take a genre like classic country and make it his own to the point that it sounds in-line with his older works. The steel guitar, piano and the angelic backing vocals sound like more of a tribute to George Jones and Conway Twitty than most modern country acts can muster.  I would say that is an impressive feat for a kid from England.

“In The Event of My Demise” seems to channel the rhythm of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” amidst a Johnny Cash-esque guitar line. “Waiting” is a perfect duet with Noah Cyrus, amidst romantic guitar strums, playful piano and violin, and a killer saxophone solo.

While the lyrics don’t give the straight pictures I would have hoped for, they are dreamlike enough that it allows you to paint your own image and setting given the music. A good example is “The Man on Stage”, which finds Bugg singing about a broken lover with the lines, “He took your heart with his heart / And then he led the man on stage / Is not the same man you’ve met / To the next town up ahead”. The piano and scorned violin convey a devastating heartbreak, even though Bugg hasn’t really said anything himself. It’s as infuriating as it is brilliantly catchy.

The only downside to the album is given how much energy Bugg has, it is a shame that every song has the same mellow energy. He doesn’t push himself in ways I had hoped at the start of each song. Instead, he found a groove and a sound for this album and stuck to it. But the depth of musicianship and number of instruments help make up for it.

Jake Bugg is an incredibly talented songwriter. The fact that he’s so young and has mastered so many different genres but still manages a cohesive discography is the feat of a genius. While I can’t claim that Hearts That Strain is Bugg’s best work, it is inspired. It harkens to the classic sound of country music in a way that modern country artists can’t touch. Considering that Hearts That Strain came just over a year after his last record, it makes this album all the more impressive.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has almost finished watching How I Met Your Mother for the first time. He just learned what the ducky tie is.

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Review: Jake Bugg – On My One

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Jake Bugg has been a growing name in the musical world for quite some time. He grabbed the mainstream’s attention for writing aggressive, modernized folk with the fierce and biting lyricism of early Oasis. When his second LP, Shangri-La released, his shift to a full band delving deep into Brit pop was a welcome change that still managed to highlight his songwriting in the best ways.

On My One then, is a complicated matter. It is a hybrid that gives a grounded focus to Bugg’s signature acoustic ballads while throwing in some rock songs to give a taste for both worlds. However, what should be a well-rounded sound instead feels disjointed and crammed with several ‘filler’ tracks to justify the release as an LP.

All things considered, Bugg’s sound is remarkably similar to what gave him a rise to fame to begin with. His voice fits the sound with a youthful arrogance that occasionally hits the bleating notes of a young Bob Dylan. The acoustic tracks are a strong mix of crooning ballads and strong pop sensibilities. What falls flat are the electric tracks. Rather than transitioning his sound through an electric guitar, he takes the opportunity to experiment with genre and electronics. While I am never opposed to artists taking chances, it does not pan out for On My One.

Where the acoustic songs shine in atmosphere and story and emphasize the loneliness felt in the album’s name (“Love, Hope, and Misery”), the electric tracks devolve into wanna-be dance songs with repetitive lyrics that feel alien to anything in Bugg’s discography.

“One My One” is a dark, bluesy opener that aims to set the tone, describing being on the road touring for three years as an artist and feeling stripped of a sense of home, much less an abandonment by God. It feels like a thesis statement and carves a deep wound immediately.

The very next song, “Gimme the Love” barges in with a disco-esque beat and guitars ripping at the dance floor. Jake sings, “Better put your sticker on cause you gonna break / Late nights make you walk sideways / And now we’re gonna party my way / It’s only gonna be the same” before shouting “Just gimme the Love” eight times in a row per chorus. In a way, it removes most everything that made me pay attention to Jake Bugg in the first place, and replaces it with what feels like an above-average song that would play in the background of a dance club.

Immediately following that, is “Love, Hope, and Misery”, a song among the best of Jake Bugg’s career. An acoustic ballad highlighted with doo-wop guitar strains, brass instruments and swelling violins, the song is emotional and marks a return to the loneliness of the album title. Bugg’s voice carried the weight of frustrated sincerity as he sings, “They say it comes in threes; love hope and misery / And the first two have gone and tell me if I’m wrong / I hope that I am and you don’t hate me / Don’t be mad, I’m just a man / And I know, and I know, and I know, and I know, and I know, and I know that you must hate me”.

“Livin’ Up Country” is an experiment that pays off. It is a country-styled song that seemingly appears in the middle of the album, much in the same way Ace Enders would plant one in the midst of The Early November’s albums. It gives a different mood than the rest of the record, while pulling off the idea of being hopeful while stumbling through a series of failures. “And if I could understand, my body would get some rest at last / Would I fight back to take a stand?/ I’d never look back, never have to look out for the man”.

But for all of the hits, it is the misses that ruin the mood. “Ain’t No Rhyme” is a paltry attempt at a Beastie Boys-esque rap song that would have felt cheesy in 1991. It could be a matter of taste, but with it’s lame drum beat and cheap guitar riffs, the track feels like the epitome of ‘filler.’

Jake Bugg is an incredibly talented musician. He’s one of the under-headliners for Riot Fest, marked on the same line as established bands like the Deftones, Bad Religion and Underoath as a draw. On My One is an album that all bands make, a foray into experimentation and tweaking sound to ensure that they don’t write the same songs year after year. However, the trials here seem forced, wedged between great songs like a bad game of Marco Polo. Not that most of them are even bad songs, it seems like there would have been a better way to implement them into the record. While there is much to like about On My One, it is a divisive hodge-podge from a musician who has shown several times that he is capable of so much more.

3/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and will be seeing Mr. Bugg at Riot Fest. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for that for almost three years now. 😀