john grant - grey tickles, black pressure

Kenalyn Ang

With his third album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, singer and songwriter John Grant comes ready to greet the public ear with an absolutely stellar music production, building upon the success of his previous independent experience and time with the Czars. Originally based in Colorado but currently living in Iceland, Grant creates in this album a musical documentation of his feelings and modern day societal issues. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is a culmination of Grant’s talent, a presentation of his musical maturity and international experiences, resulting in an undeniably mesmerizing and appealing album.

Throughout the fourteen tracks, Grant’s voice is strong and chilled as he nonsensically croons and croaks about a variety of subjects including the Middle East, HIV, and global warming theorists. As he once said in a 2014 concert with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, he often writes his songs about issues concerning or confusing to him. This album’s tracks are his contemplations on such events, his unspoken thoughts transformed into song, thus he may be singing about something ominous and looming, ‘children who have cancer’ (see title track) or citing the Bible (see Intro), then slide into snarky adlib and mention a ‘chicken gizzard’ (see Black Blizzard). 

In fact, the entire album seems to play out in his head, with listeners simply acting as visitors in a museum exhibit, peeping into his brain’s many pockets and canals. His words, though, are candid snapshots of real life suffering and disillusionment. Grant cites historical events and figures like Chernobyl and switches between singing in English, and other languages such as Russian. The title itself is derived from Turkish and Icelandic languages, referencing sayings and words for a midlife crisis with ‘grey tickles’ and nightmares with ‘black pressure’. He creates an unexpected political atmosphere and vibe, hinting at his own personal dissatisfaction with our society’s flaws and his experience living as a gay man, while touching on his own extensive travels. But John Grant is in no rush, taking his time with every song. None of them rush immediately to Grant’s words, but calmly open with pulses that first have you rocking in your seat. The slow, lilting quality of his voice as well as those of his guest vocalists - the likes of Tracey Thorn - are contrasted by the funky, popping instrumentals that pull you step by step further into each song. The fluidity of the sound and the confidence infused in Grant’s vocals maintain a swaying groove until the end. Most importantly, this confidence and even pace throughout Grant’s latest album suggest that perhaps he has finally found genuine peace and redemption from previous, chaotic troubles.  

John Grant’s lyrics are personal, touching and simultaneously global-minded, and thus it’s not just the buzzed beats, perhaps attributed to Grant’s guest instrumentalists, that have me coming back and replaying each song. While Grant’s album may be chiefly composed of his criticisms and complaints, his album is not a killjoy and will not disappoint or depress. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is perfect for our current autumnal season. If you can, do try and head on over to Glasgow next January, where he’ll be appearing in the flesh, warbling about every and any stray quirk of our 21st century society.