Another review made too late.
One of the albums I was giddy to buy when it was first released was Chaos and the Calm by James Bay, back in earlier 2015. A few months prior (if I remember correctly) he had just released his first single, Hold Back The River, so he was fresh on the public scene. In honesty, Hold Back The River wasn’t the first single I heard, despite its successful place in the charts. It was my friend who had come to me telling me I should check out his music, as she assumed (correctly) that I would like his style.
In doing so, I stumbled upon his YouTube channel, which had acoustic versions of his album’s song pre-release, many of which done all in one take with a visually pleasing backdrop. It was When We Were On Fire that I had first decided to watch and listen to, and I was immediately impressed with him. The riff of his guitar in this particular song/video was a pleasant surprise, as I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a perky, quick tune of abrupt notes that made me smile, and even better was his talented voice; his natural, acoustic singing voice is very much like his studio recordings, showing he needs no touch-ups to make himself sound passable as a singer, and there is an enjoyable warmth to his tone that emulates himself as a person (he comes across as a lovely person). After becoming hooked on this, I checked out his single and immediately loved it, with each pluck of the guitar string and the fabulous build up during the song’s progression to a storming jam that is impossible to not sing along to.
Bay’s style was distinguishable from the off, and as I discovered and delved into more of his songs, the spirited feel of his voice and excellent instrumentals – always with his guitar at the forefront – I was getting more and more hooked on his sound. It wasn’t just his wonderful voice, however, but his personal style too: his discernible look of long hair and a hat, which almost echoes the ‘rock star’ trend but with a chiselled, polished clean-up. James Bay is clever in how he visually portrays himself – though he lets his music do the talking, he is recognisable as having the long hair, the hat, the guitar (and I’m sure his cheekbones have had their own recognition before), which is a good tool when becoming memorable by the public. Melanie Martinez, for example, has her own sweet and girly baby style, with pretty, childish clothing, and the King of Pop was remembered during his career for the militant jacket, the hat and the glittering glove – though James is far more reserved. [some very random examples of memorable style, I know]
Of course, I’m not at all saying it’s his style people remember him for. It’s his talent. His perfectly indie rock/folk rock/soul voice has an earthy feel, not perfected (as I mentioned before) like most mainstream music is. It somehow makes his thoughtful lyrics more relatable, though they themselves capture real emotions, real thoughts (notably in Craving where he sings of the train of thought we all encounter – “Where do I go? What do I need?”)
When I bought the album, it was a wonderful experience for the first time, with some eye-openingly brilliant songs, though brilliantly it doesn’t lose its appeal after several listens. Strangely, despite there being some quick-paced, chirpy songs, and tracks with stomping rhythm, I finish the album often with a mellow feeling – it’s perfect for some quiet background music.
Each track has its own flavour and difference (predominantly): the cheerful yet thoughtful Craving, the hopeful and heart-warming Best Fake Smile, the slow and beautiful Move Together (with adorably polite sexual lyrics), the dirty and strained Collide* and, of course, the irresistable song that started it all: Hold Back The River.
The way Mr Bay flows from emotion to emotion, with a multitude of stories and themes within his music and lyrics, shows his real passion for music: you can tell from his vocal ability and envious lyrical writing that he is a man in love with what he does. He isn’t a try-hard, he doesn’t perform for the money or write songs for attention – he does it because he loves it, which can only make equally passionate listeners feel more connected with the songs and the artist.
In conclusion, I thank James Bay for blessing me with his music, as he is an inspired creative artist who inspires me. Which is a weird thing to say, but it is the best I can do as a closing note.
*my personal favourite.