Aussie singer-songwriter Holly Rankin aka Jack River has proven capable of dropping catchy hook-filled singles that will find their way onto many playlists. But on her debut full-length record Sugar Mountain, which drops June 22 via her own label Hopeless Utopian, Rankin shows she can do much more than that.
Sugar Mountain is an expansive record that features a variety of vibes and showcases Rankin’s talents across a variety of instruments. It’s a completely accessible pop record that could and should lead listeners down rabbit holes to discover more left-of-center alt-pop artists — almost in a Gwen Stefani with a guitar in 2018 style.
Opening track “Her Smile” is a painfully intimate tribute to River’s sister who passed away at a very young age. It’s Rankin’s voice accompanied only by an acoustic guitar for the verses before building to a heavy crescendo. It is much different from what proliferates the rest of the album.
The single “Ballroom” still stands out as one of the strongest tunes on the album. Rankin constructs a relatable hook about being at a party or dance or whatever and having eyes just for one person. “All these people in the room / And I just wanna be alone with you,” she sings before a booming repeating of “I should’ve told you there is nowhere to go from here.” It’s sort of reminiscent of Wolf Alice’s big hit from last year “Don’t Delete The Kisses”.
The song “Confess” has a recognizable ’90s feel to its guitar melody, almost like Semisonic’s “Closing Time” mixed with Third Eye Blind’s “How’s It Going To Be”. Also like Third Eye Blind, Rankin does an excellent job at hiding vulnerable and dark songwriting underneath pop hooks. Rankin is able to jump from a light rasp to an almost squeaky but still very endearing vocal style that separates her from the rest of the pack of alt-rock/pop female vocalists and songwriters.
“Fool’s Gold” is another single that hits the mark with the kind of songwriting that should proliferate the Tumblrs of sad boys and girls for years to come. “You don’t like rollercoasters, how could you ever love a girl like me?” the song begins. Jack River does a wonderful job of punching up the tempo and exploding into choruses all over this record.
“Stardust and Rust” features a pretty slow-moving piano line as Rankin croons out the verse, a nice drum beat emerging to give it a dance vibe. It kind of has a stripped-down Hundred Waters feel to it, with a strings arrangement coming into range late in the track.
“Fault Line” is a track about Rankin’s reminiscing on how she messed up a relationship. “I should have loved you the first time / You were so bright, I was so blind,” Rankin sings in the chorus.
“Constellation Ball” is another groovy guitar-driven tune that Rankin’s voice floats effortlessly over with a gut-punching chorus. The album closes with “In Infinity”, a song similar to the album-opening track that relies heavily on acoustic guitar.
Overall, Sugar Mountain is a delicious record that traverses some rough terrain with a big payoff. It has me forecasting big things from the singer. I loved her first EP Highway Songs #2 and she’s only growing bolder as a songwriter. It’s a pretty cohesive record, one that I hope brings her to Los Angeles for a live show sometime in the near future.
Jack River’s Sugar Mountain reviewed in emojis: ?️♀️?⛰?
Listen to the album below!