EP Review: Jack River – Stranger Heart (2020 EP)

The evolution of an artist is imperative to their continued success. Sure, you could release a really great debut album and have everyone love it across the musical spectrum, and then proceed to release the same ten songs every two years for the next decade before you seemingly grow out of your target audience, or dare I say, the Triple J sound. Only so often do bands make it beyond it album number one. And for those lucky few, they’re quite often tasked with releasing something that is as much the same as the stuff people have grown to love them for, as it is different, so as to stave off boredom, repetition and the imposter syndrome.

Here on the follow-up release to her critically adored debut album, Sugar Mountain, Jack River returns with an EP that is, as aforementioned, as similar and different as possible from its predecessor. Stranger Heart maintains the sugary hooks, and deep and meticulous lyricism mixed with every possible element of the human condition: hope, joy, grief, fear and love.

Lead single “Later Flight” touches on wanting to be with a loved one while living a busy life that is essentially keeping you from the person you crave the most. As a touring musician, relationships are something that will tend to fall into the less important pile. But when given the chance to fully embrace this potential love, Jack River (Holly Rankin) fully attempts to embrace it with everything she has, as shown through the lyric ‘I will love you for all of my life, I know’. It’s cheesy, but it’s these attempts at being human that keeps Jack River grounded and attached to those who keep her going.

“Night Song”, in the same vein as many Oasis or early DMA’s track, featuring simplistic acoustic guitar that speaks wholly about the things that attract and push people away from each other. “Dark Star” is as close as you’ll get to hearing Sugar Mountain Jack River on the EP, as the 80’s disco-tinged guitar springs to life in the chorus, before the pitched vocals create a complete paradox with the underlyingly sad themes of young and hopeless love.

“Closer” is the intimate ballad of the EP, as Jack River comes to grips with the potential Freudian Slip that can slip into many musicians’ songs. Does she really feel the same as the character she is trying to portray in the track, or is it all make-believe? If it is real, then be sure to fully commit to the experience. If it isn’t real, is it really worth writing about?

The last track of the EP, “80sHD” is a blatant calling out of the boys club that exists in the music industry. It’s a gritty, honest track that will undoubtedly shape future releases for Jack River.

Whilst not reaching the heights of Sugar Mountain, Stranger Heart is a strong follow up for an artist in the midst of an evolution. Here’s hoping it keeps happening.

Review Score: Three and a half stars out of Five.

Stranger Heart is out now.