The fourth album by Australian singer / songwriter Jack Ladder isn’t an easy record to summarise. ‘Playmates’ wasn’t planned that way, but it became an album that threw together elements that sound incongruous on paper. Synthesizers and industrial stomp rub shoulders with glam guitars, marimba and pedal steel twang, while above all Ladder’s one of a kind granite baritone slashes at love and darkness like a heavy blade. But this is an album where the songs take precedence over any idea of genre or style.
On this album, as on his last album, 2011’s ‘HURTSVILLE’, Jack Ladder is joined by The Dreamlanders: Laurence Pike (also of PVT), Kirin J. Callinan and Donny Benet. The album was produced by Kim Moyes, one half of Sydney electronic duo The Presets. It also features the guest vocals of Sharon Van Etten on two tracks, “Come On Back This Way”, and current single “To Keep And To Be Kept”.
“When I first saw Jack Ladder, it was on my first tour of Australia in 2012 and it blew me away”, said Van Etten. “I got their record and I listened to it nonstop when I got home and we kept in touch over the year.”
“He sent me a couple tracks down the line and referenced a Chris Norman and Suzi Quatro duet and I was deeply intrigued”, she said of the genesis of “To Keep And To Be Kept”. “He’s got a darkness to his vocals and lyrics but with a wink. It was really fun and an interesting challenge and his songs are killer. I feel lucky to have been a part of it.”
“I want to write love songs that aren’t overloaded with sugar and lies”, says Ladder of his lyrical aims on the record. “There aren’t enough songs about love that are written in a way that feels real, that can capture both sides, songs with guts and not just from a tortured aspect, from an honest one.”
The album’s title is something that puzzles many. Ladder welcomes the various interpretations. “I named the record ‘Playmates’ because it represented a naive childhood idea of friendship, kids playing together, animals running around in the garden. My partner and I didn’t want to get married. The idea of Playmates represents what our relationship is to us as an artist couple living in an oversized playhouse.”
“Then there’s the other side”, he adds. “The late night adult world of Playmates in relation to how Playboy and pornography have subverted the phrase. This is important to the record as well. The neon lights of the strip clubs, the twisted underbelly of desire. The way it cuts you up inside. If you search “#playmates” on Instagram you’ll find a bizarre melange of imagery; 3 year olds at day care, toy Ninja Turtle figurines, cats and dogs nestling into one another and oiled bikini girls taking selfies. Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders are now proudly included in that mess. Though I only discovered that afterwards.”
The sense of the record existing in another world was amplified by the album’s three videos. “Come On Back This Way” features only Ladder and a female dancer moving slowly behind him on a podium, on a dark, curtained set that’s part David Lynch and part community access TV show. “Her Hands” is a game of cat and mouse set within marbled halls, where the idea of pursuer and the pursued is ambiguous. The video for current single “To Keep And To Be Kept” is the first to feature The Dreamlanders. Director Alex Smith (who also directed “Come On Back…” as well as videos by Coldplay and Peaches & Iggy Pop) used vintage video TV equipment bought from a Sydney church to make the band resemble The Temptations if they were replacing Sparks as the last band in heaven.
‘Playmates’ is the first Jack Ladder album released in North America by Fat Possum. The band return to the US in December for their first shows there since very well received showcases at SXSW, and shows in New York and LA straight afterwards. The tour will start one week after they complete their support run with Florence & The Machine on their national tour of Australia and New Zealand.