Dean: Adam Garrett Serves His Pop-Funk Slow and Low

Is suave Adam Garrett the pop-funk prophet we’ve all been waiting for? What I can say for sure is that the man likes his tunes slow, low and infused with the pleasure-seeking spirit of decadent 1980s post-disco club culture.

Garrett’s music would have played well in gaudy Miami night spots and dingy Brooklyn discos that have long been closed down or gentrified. You can picture his recording studio lit in neon lights; lyrics written in lipstick on dirty glass coffee tables. To put it another way, these are hits for people whose favourite Wham! song is “Everything She Wants”.

The studious who like to scan music credits will know Garrett (real name Adam Byrne) from his work with Donegal singer Eve Belle. He’s also been prominent in the Dublin underground as a member of INNRSPACE. The alt-jazz triumvirate have dropped a small number of instrumental jams – the song “Havana” is laid-back and extremely vibey – but are certainly best known for the records released under the solo banner of trumpet player Uly (the third member is Fiachra Kinder) and for collaborating with rising rapper Nealo. Add in singer Molly Sterling and you’ve got one of the most potent Irish music cliques out there right now, the chemistry always just right.

Garrett’s own solo experiments have so far flown under the radar. The most widely streamed track on his Spotify page at time of writing is “Heart Food for Hard Times”, which is actually a Nealo single that displays the rapper’s streetwise style. Conversely, Garrett’s own singles draw from synth-pop, post-disco, blue-eyed soul and West Coast pop-funk — classic genres that the producer and instrumentalist interprets with his own sense of style.

Put it this way: it takes an urbane artist to summon the essence of silver-haired soul man Michael McDonald. Yet Garrett’s “On/Off” feels of the same lineage of a song like “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” — which, of course, was heavily sampled on Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate”. The freestyle piano keys that run through the track reveal Garrett to be a jazz kid at heart. And though his writing rarely moves beyond approved pop tropes — relationships, intimacy and whatnot — “On/Off” proves him capable of dropping a great one-liner: “Forget about the sentimental things that I would say/’Cause I could just be anybody else’s anyday,” he says with supreme confidence.

Then there is “All Worthwhile”, a song in the tradition of great dance-pop built around an ultra-catchy synth arpeggio (see also: “Take On Me” by a-ha, “Kids” by MGMT). Let’s call it a tune for a summer season that this year never arrived.

Garrett’s voice is an interesting instrument. For sure he’s a smooth performer, but his singing conveys an unusual and expressive tension. It’s as if his voice is going to crack at any minute and that sense of anxiety helps electrify the music.

Take “So Fine”, the ballad in his repertoire. Just as things get comfortable on the bridge — “I can live inside you,” Garrett cheekily sings in an unblushing tone — the star suddenly screws his voice upward into an anguished falsetto on the chorus, bringing a sense of torment to this romance story. Garrett sounds like a man at the mercy of his lover. It’s a good reminder that great pop music is often built on that sense of desperation.

Released in July, latest single “Don’t Keep Up” is the debut release from Uly’s fledgling independent label andfriends records (and is confirmed to appear on Garrett’s debut EP, due for release later this summer). The song’s guitar and keyboard solos sound straight out of a 1980s cabaret, the band rocking pastel-coloured suits and funky facial hair, cocktails served with straws and plantlife, substance use barely concealed. What was fashionable then feels fashionable again.

Garrett’s solo discography is small and so it wouldn’t be right or proper to draw too many hard assumptions about where his sound is headed in the long term. But play these handful of loose tracks and one thing becomes clear as crystal: Garrett, having spent most of his rising musical career in the background, has no interest in being a deputy. If these songs have so far passed you by, I say pass the smelling salts.

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Dean Van Nguyen: Dean Van Nguyen is a cultural critic and music journalist for The Irish Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily and Wax Poetics, among others. As well as pop culture, he writes about identity, youth, race relations and Dublin.

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