The wide-brimmed hat that once defined James Bay’s persona, musical style
The artist began his course in 2013 after signing to Republic Records Company and quickly releasing his first EP, The Dark of the Morning. Less than a year later, Bay released his second EP, named for his soon-to-be-hit “Let It Go.” It was his full length, debut album, however, which drew the attention of listeners and ignited his career.
One month after its release, Chaos and the Calm peaked at the number one position for albums in the UK, capturing audiences with his folksy, polite and stripped-down acoustic tunes. Three years later, – an eternity in today’s fast-paced, pop-obsessed industry – Bay released his second studio album, Electric Light.
Whereas Chaos and the Calm’s relatable, boy-next-door musings humbly suggested that audiences listen, Bay’s follow-up album Electric Light demands the attention of listeners.
Following the narrated, music-less “Intro,” “Wasted On Each Other” proves from the start that Bay is dramatically unapologetic in his musical experimentation. Distorted guitar riffs build on intense percussion reflective of most folk-rock anthems. Meanwhile gritty background vocals contrast the silky falsetto of the bridge and chorus.
First released as a single, “Pink Lemonade” lays the foundation for later songs on the album that can be described as both thrillingly and pleasantly chaotic. Allowing listeners little room to breathe, the song is a far leap – in lyrics, instrumentation and style – from Bay’s previous lovestruck ballads.
Reflecting on the push-and-pull, talk-or-act-like-everything’s-fine dynamic at play in relationships, the heavy electric guitar, synths and steady drums never allow any time or space for the conversation that Bay alludes to in the lyrics (“Do you wanna talk, do you wanna talk it through? Swear I ain’t got anything on my mind. I don’t wanna talk to you.”). Despite its busyness, the instrumentation works in combination with the lyrics.
In a step toward his roots, Bay takes notes from the gospel genre in “In My Head,” with instrumentation typical of the genre, specifically the organ, tambourine and gospel choir. The latter also makes an appearance on “I Found You,” a romantic number more reminiscent of his old approachable and delicate style than his new robust and self-assured sound.
The album returns to its spunky and energetic persona in “Sugar Drunk High,” while still retaining elements of the old James Bay, most pointedly in the sing-along style chorus.
Intertwined with samples, autotuned vocals, dubbed echoes, distorted guitar and gritty timbre, Electric Light is proof of two things: that Bay is not afraid to do the unexpected and that he is still searching for his sound.
Despite the shocking, yet well-executed deviation, Bay returns to his crooning, soft-spoken self as the album concludes. “Slide,” a wistfully tragic lullaby of love and heartbreak, closes the album on a tender note that leaves listeners with the realization that they’ve just experienced an intense and broad range of emotions throughout the 48-minute period that makes up the album.