Album Review: Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders, ‘Playmates’
Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders might not be as well known in the U.S. as they should be, but I think we're ready for them now. Fans in New Zealand and Ladder's home country of Australia have been listening to his newest album, Playmates, since November -- and we've been lucky enough to be able to spin it for the past week. Now, as of today (Feb. 24), stateside fans can finally own this record.
Jack Ladder has been carving out his own spot in the music world for more than 10 years, with four albums under his Aussie belt. Playmates is nothing if not a strong collection of pop songs that, though they would seem at home in the Top 40 of the 1980s, are still interesting and original in the 21st century.
If the shameful era of pop music known as the '80s had any influence on Playmates, it came in the form of solid, appealing song structure and catchy musical hooks. What the album lacks in '80s aesthetic are the cheesy, saccharine lyrics and robotically overproduced tones.
The best of that '80s influence can be summed up with "Miracle." It's a track that is well-placed at No. 7 on the album, and hearing the first six songs before it helps to build a sort of trust in Ladder that he's not just trying to latch onto a nostalgic fad that peaked a few years ago; he's actually using that sound as a palate of tones to work with.
If you doubt such is the case, the very next track, "Neon Blue," should help convince you. It's one of the best songs on the disc -- and proof that Ladder is a master at writing catchy, interesting songs.
Ladder belongs to the elite group of baritone pop and rock singers, delivering his vocals in a deep voice with sad detachment, as if he's emotionally involved with whatever he's singing about -- but not so much that he doesn't have a mental foot out the door at all times. It comes across as a sort of authentic coolness that most people have to fake.
Just listen to the Playmates' opening track, "Come on Back This Way," on which he is joined by American sweetheart (or at least she should be) Sharon Van Etten. The instrumentation and arrangement make the song solid and very listenable, but mostly they serve as a bedrock over which Ladder can pour his thick cement vocals.
All in all, Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders' Playmates is the sort of album you can get lost in. It's full of lush sonic arrangements drenched with robust vocals speaking catchy -- but still complex -- prose.