Chet Faker – Built On Glass

JOEL TURNER gets under the covers with Chet Faker’s debut album.

Built On Glass is a make-out album. Try playing it in public: strangers will make intense, meaningful eye contact. They’ll drift slowly into each other’s arms and start to shed their clothes. The spell will only break about an hour later, when the album ends, so make sure you haven’t hit repeat, or you and everyone around you will be trapped forever in a slow-jam.

Chet Faker (aka Nicholas Murphy) has that kind of power. Part of it comes from his voice: soft and sensual, with a nice Sam Cooke rasp when he strains, it’s an incredibly expressive instrument. Album opener ‘Release Your Problems’ plays with a ‘90s R&B melody (think Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’) that shows off his most seductive side. When he croons the chorus, it’s both a request and a direction, the voice of a thoughtful lover whose intentions are clear. It’s a logical extension of ‘I’m Into You’ from his Thinking in Textures EP, but with an added confidence that makes it even more devastating.

“A debut album shouldn’t be this assured”

That confidence is obvious in his production, too. Built On Glass isn’t just impressive because Murphy can pull off a sinuous bassline like The xx, or chuck in a slowed-down Dam-Funk robo-groove; it’s impressive because he can make such far-flung sounds feel like a natural part of his own work. Striking that balance between innovation and iteration is a challenge all artists face, and Chet Faker nails it.

It clearly wasn’t an easy process to get to that point. Murphy deleted everything and started again, twice. That perfectionist streak has paid off. The album sounds gorgeous, full of little details like syncopated finger-snaps and ear-tickling harmonies that make repeat listens so necessary.

Once you’ve listened a few times, though, you’ll start to notice the steelier edge to Built On Glass’ second half. A chill seeps in, and the sensitive lover is replaced by a vulnerable man, begging for love and relief and distraction. The minimal arrangements still feel intimate, but things feel more complicated, less clear cut. Those shades of grey add a complexity to Built On Glass that’s really compelling, a more intellectual angle to complement the physicality of the first half.

A debut album shouldn’t be this assured. Even Radiohead had Pablo Honey, so how does Chet Faker manage to come out sounding so effortless, so complete, on his first try? If this was professional cycling, someone would be demanding a drug test.