Jackson Phillips has developed a formula, albeit a very strong one. Beginning with a driving bass or arpeggiated synth line, then adding in a driving drum beat and some distant “ooohs” before building them all up to a cathartic sing along chorus, the Day Wave mastermind has carved out a nice little niche for himself. His melodies are poppier than DIIV, his bass lines more upbeat than The Radio Dept, and when all put together, his songs lusher than Real Estate – he’s not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but he doesn’t need to. His songs just sound good.
His back catalogue is chock full of these upbeat dream-pop songs and for the most part, The Days We Had does little to deviate from his work released over the last couple of years. He adds little flourishes here and there, like the “All I Want” by LCD Soundsystem-like guitar line on “Home” or the heavy guitar feedback at the beginning of “Something Here,” recalling Beach House’s “Sparks.” But at the end of the day, Day Wave’s march towards his first album is a path marked by subtle progression rather than a distinct change in sound, resulting in a fully realized debut.
And had Phillips created a work comprised entirely of these introspective, multi-faceted, feel-good, buoyant chillwave tracks a la early single “Drag” and album cut “Promises,” he’d have made a very solid full-length. But it’s precisely the few times he strays from his formula that gives The Days We Had more depth, ultimately resulting in one of the more memorable debuts of 2017.
Take album closer “I’m Still Here.” Layered over meandering and out of rhythm fingerpicked guitar riff, Phillips gets introspective, his voice hiding beneath sparkling synths and a minor bass line. It’s a welcome curveball, resulting in what Phillips described as “most lyrically personal song on this album” in a recent Reddit AMA. Coupled with its preceding track “Disguise,” it represents Phillips trying something new – or at least an extension of “You,” from his 2016 EP Hard To Read – and he largely succeeds. Day Wave has consistently shown that he’s more than comfortable writing warm synth-led alt-rock radio songs, but Phillips is even better when he goes in a different direction.
In that same AMA, a user asked, “What do you say to the people that think all of your songs sound the same?” Phillips’ response sums up his entire back catalogue to a tee: “I’m just one guy, my songs are going to be similar because every note being played and sung is coming from me… I’m not forcing things to be radically different from each other, I want to let it happen naturally.”
Since Phillips’ grasp on his project is nearly absolute, his music reflects his increasingly distinctive style, reserving any sort of variation for specific moments. But when he does decide to throw a different pitch, they’re just wild enough to fool the listener. In a matter of just two years, Day Wave has cultivated a winning and remarkably consistent formula. When he does decide to break from that sonic blueprint, the end result is magnificent, potentially even better than the sound that first got him noticed.