As the film quote goes, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, that’s how I feel about J Crist’s music. The proof of that is perhaps best found with Onward: Collection 2011- 2021, as the title implies, a retrospective of a decade’s worth of work and packed with everything from psychedelia to rock, to funky urges to Latin vibes to power-pop and beyond. 

Whilst we wait for the next album (and it says something about the artist’s work load that Scratch That was released only a number of months ago) J Crist has released a salvo of remixed and video accompanied tracks from the album Inside Out. The album first saw the light of day in 2013 and so is proof that songs are never truly finished, that their story goes on as long as their creator, or others, are willing to re-imagine and re-define what the song was, is and could be about.

The first of the three is Subliminal, a slab of accessible alt-rock, able to build up an energetic pace, an upward momentum but remain spacious and atmospheric until it is ready to unleash its full potential. Which it does after about a minute, adding swathes of guitar textures, ramping up the percussive layers that shimmer and shake around the edge of the song and building dynamic and tension as it goes. But, as we have seen to full effect with the recent album Scratch That, J Crist also revels in the idea of space and so, even when the song is reaching crescendoes and cavernous proportions, it never seems overplayed. Many artists would throw everything at the sonic workspace, up the volume, and overload the circuits in an effort to sound big and clever, to make an impact. Subliminal does it through clever layering, a stacking of sound rather than just throwing everything into the mix. It is as effective as it is smart. Actually, it is effective because it is smart.

Lies and Ties takes a different approach as to how to kick things off, finding its feet so rapidly that it feels as if you have dropped in halfway through the proceedings. It starts big, it stays big. Guitars charge, drums gallop, the bass pulses and the vocals reach for the stars, the whole thing crackles with angst and energy teetering on the jagged edge of alt- and classic rock, metal and some gothic undertones.

And we should spare some thought for the amount of work that has gone into the videos at this point. Lies and Ties is a riot of S&M imagery, risque, and indeed risky, moves, clubland kink and evocative visual statements, but it is a high-quality production. It would be so easy to make such a video look tacky but here it looks like a million dollars, is cool and glamourous. Subliminal too was a cascade of fast-cut, images designed to both make you feel and make you think.

The final offering is Hello You Said, a song born out of shards of guitar and wilfully louche beats, there is a languidly to the whole thing, the vocals, for a change, seeming to follow rather than lead, all adding to the feeling of world-weariness. Once again, accessible alternative rock seems to be the order of the day, you get more than a whiff of that balance of spaciousness and epic drama that has coloured more recent releases and the video is the perfect accompaniment to the music, a scattering of dark, intimate close-ups and dramatic urban landscapes, intrigue told through fleeting images and stories made up of fractured storylines into which you can add your own meanings.

The songs might be a decade old, but they sound nothing less than the product of the here-and-now, a combination, I should imagine, of good songwriting in the first place, smart remixing and production and the fact that good music never goes out of fashion, and this is good music. Scratch that, this is great music.

What I like about J Crist…actually, well, there are many things, but I do admire his ability to revisit previous works and keep them up to date and of the moment. Even with his phenomenal work rate for new music, there is time to go back and breathe new life into the back catalogue and that is a healthy and confident thing to do. So many artists are happy to draw a line under a song as if it is the definitive version and it can’t be improved upon. Surely, any recording is just a captured record of that day, that moment, that idea and also reliant on the technology, perhaps the budget, the mindset and the mood of the day. All very fluid and changeable concepts.

J Crist understands that music should be allowed to change, grow, and evolve just as the people making it do. And these three reworked and re-videoed song packages are the results of such a healthy attitude towards music making.

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Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.

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