James Bay Holds Nothing Back on Debut

James Bay‘s rough-and-tumble freshman album Chaos and the Calm is a slice of folk next to a glass of cool bourbon on a warm spring evening. Plucking and strumming with the likes of The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and Hozier, Bay’s rock/folk aesthetic is something eerily familiar and yet shockingly fresh. In a music scene so saturated with folk wannabes, Bay brings a delightful honesty and humility that can often feel manufactured in the acoustic aesthetic.

His single “Hold Back the River” has flooded radio stations across America as of late, bringing the soothing singer/songwriter aesthetic back to the forefront of music. Ed Sheeran and Hozier made great leaps for the genre, so for Bay to break in is no great surprise given the delicacy of the single. Unfortunately, it’s difficult not to notice how much the verses of “Hold Back the River” mimic The Lumineers’ “Charlie Boy.” In Bay’s shift to a more forceful register, rounding off the song with a rousing chorus, the track finds redemption and originality again, but those verses are a little too familiar.

Not content to play just in one mode, several other tracks of Chaos amp up the energy, plunging into blazing acoustic rock sentiments that nicely balance the more mellow aspects of the album. Opener “Craving” starts the album off on the right foot, with steady beat, effortless lyrics, subtle Kings Of Leon-esque guitar riffs, and plenty of spirit. This same tone is picked up by “Best Fake Smile” later on the album, bringing in delicious jazz tones alongside a cheeky if predictable beat-driven chorus.

Chaos as a whole does a wonderful job of shifting gears between folk/pop/rock anthems and fragile acoustic ballads without seeming disjointed. Bay’s voice is the key to this easy flow, likewise switching between a whisper-soft balladeer and a full-bodied rock singer. Bay, in all honesty, could be Hozier’s understudy. He brings together a proclivity for stunning lyrics with the more pop-oriented music writing of Ed Sheeran. It’s a nice combination, an art-oriented musician who maintains a wide palatability. Considering that the music video for “Hold Back the River” already has 13 million views, it’s safe to say that James Bay is going places.

Image courtesy of the artist.

1 Comment

  1. Samantha Sweeney

    March 26, 2015 at 10:20 am

    He is just PERFECT live. He was at the Troc with Hozier in November. I just wanted him to sing to me forever.

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