Design By Humans
Published On: Mon, May 4th, 2015

James Bay: Chaos and the Calm

james bayJames Bay
Chaos and the Calm
(Republic Records)

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I discovered James Bay’s music for the first time when he opened for Hozier on tour last year. Armed with just his guitars and a drummer, he managed to impress with his soaring voice, emotive enough for acoustic ballads and powerful enough to carry a soulful rock tune. Bay has released a few EPs, and Chaos and the Calm combines that previously released material with newer tracks.

The trouble with hearing Bay live before hearing his recorded LP is the production, which seems to try to make him sound more polished. Double-tracked vocals are a particular problem for me since they draw away from the character of his voice on its own. “When We Were on Fire” is a great song about a relationship falling apart, but poppy backing vocals sound out of place.

“Scars,” the only song where Bay is credited as the sole songwriter, is a perfect example of what he’s capable of without intervention. Lyrically, the song is repetitive, focusing on the reunion of a relationship, but Bay’s delivery becomes louder and more frenzied as he goes on. Breakout single “Hold Back the River” has the same dynamic and emotion, though it could do with more grit and less polish.

There isn’t a single song on Chaos and the Calm that misses the mark, and it’s an impressive debut from a promising artist. I just hope that his next release sounds less produced and allows Bay a bit more range to be himself.

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James Bay: Chaos and the Calm