We know Rankin as Jack River, the singer-songwriter who broke through in 2016 with the EP Highway Songs No 2 (Rolling Stone called it “dirty pop doused in glitter with whispers of a Mexican sunset”) and the single ‘Fool’s Gold’. But eleven years ago, a tragedy fractured Rankin’s psyche – and that of the small NSW coastal town she grew up in – when her beloved younger sister died instantly in a freak accident. Rankin found herself adrift, and songwriting became not so much catharsis as a survival tool.
“These songs are all visions of youth that I was almost involved in, but I’m only really able to reach towards it,” she says of Sugar Mountain. “The reality was I was having a completely different experience to that of my friends. They were going to uni and getting jobs, having these bright teenage years. I was in limbo.”
With such a painfully personal story to tell, it was vital to Rankin that she find the right team. In I Oh You she found a label she could trust with her mission of creating a world-class pop with heart. Rankin wrote, produced and performed each song, working only with co-producers and multi-instrumentalists Xavier Dunn and John Castle. Visionary mixer Spike Stent (Beyoncé, Grimes, Frank Ocean, Madonna), shellacked the tracks with an iridescent sparkle. The result is some of the most ambitious psych-pop that Australia has produced.
Rankin’s alter ego, Jack River, is imagined as a drifter who bridges eras, genres and dimensions. Perhaps that’s because part of Rankin has been preserved in amber at the age she was when her sister died. Jack allows her the freedom to time travel. She’s noticed that elements of the music she loved as a 14-year-old have crept into Sugar Mountain: gritty guitars from the early 2000s, the “candy chorus vocals” of Gwen Stefani, and the almost parental influences of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.
One way Rankin counters the constant sense of loss is through being eternally productive. Her company, Hopeless Utopian, is responsible for the all-women Electric Lady tours and also the annual Grow Your Own festival in her hometown of Forster. And this album, she hopes, will further foster connections. Rarely has a contemporary songwriter so eloquently captured the multidimensional experience of loss.