The wide-brimmed hat that once defined James Bay’s persona, musical style and overall character is no longer. Instead, his second studio album, Electric Light, shows Bay’s adoption of another hat: one of experimental producer, boundary-pusher and major league musician.
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.