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Album Review: James Bay – Chaos And The Calm

2 min read

Much like those artists who won the award before him, securing the BRIT Critic’s Choice Award late last year troubadour has marked James Bay as the next big success of British music. It’s no surprise then that his debut album Chaos And The Calm has been one of the most hyped releases of 2015 thus far. Its second single Hold Back The River has already brought the young Englishman his first true triumph, performing especially well in Australia, and it’s easy to see why. While not entirely ‘visionary’ the track articulated self-assured songcraft, and an intense sincerity emboldened by that striking, husky voice. This confidence, however, is lost on much of the album as a whole which, perhaps unsurprisingly for a debut, navigates more calm than chaos. James Bay Chaos and the calmOpening the LP is Craving, whose mid-tempo, guitar-driven rock accompanies a relatable message concerning that claustrophobic desire for something more. While Bay vocalises the theme effectively, especially letting loose in the hook, a more frenzied pace would have paired better with the heated message. Similarly in lead single Let It Go, Bay’s voice is the main attraction – expertly shifting from his fragile falsetto to a hot-blooded growl, directing climactic possibilities to the chorus with his vocal delivery. He swaps leading guitars for keys in the piano-led, Fleetwood Mac-influenced If You Ever Want To Be In Love, before exploring the rockier end of his musical spectrum with Get Out While You Can and Best Fake Smile, whose invitational clapping and anthemic chorus make for a very infectious track. Stripped-back Scars is arguably the standout of the album, and its pure vulnerability is placed perfectly between the carefree festival anthem When We Were On Fire and the percussion-driven Collide, whose sparse accompaniment buoys attitude-laden vocals, guitar licks and organ. Scars exposes an affecting fragility and pain that had yet to rear its head, whose musical layering effortlessly follows the emotional arc of the lyrics. There’s no doubt that Bay has a firm grounding in traditional blues-rock songwriting. His sincere intentions, however, don’t quite live up to the 24-year-old’s recognisable potential. Perhaps the remnants of his crowd-pleasing past as a busker, which has certainly been a positive influence on his voice and emotional connectivity, have hindered the more experimental, chaotic possibilities of his music making. Nonetheless, I hope and suspect that picking up the Critics’ Choice Award, will not only propel his success, but will give Bay the confidence to make riskier, more interesting compositional decisions that will no doubt pay off.