Chaos and the Calm

America has always harbored a fascination with British musicians. Recollections of 90’s bands, such as Oasis or The Spice Girls, easily come to mind, as well as more recent musicians such as Charlie XCX or Adele. Many of these acts will come and go with the wind– acting only as a brief phase in the world of pop culture (my eyes are on you, One Direction). Some leave a legacy behind. Acts such as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones did just that– redefining musical culture. Stepping on to the stage with his latest full length album, Chaos and the Calm, James Bay has potential to leave a legacy as well.

At first glimpse, Chaos and the Calm could easily be overlooked. Bay’s appearance might be misleading. Sporting a Jack White hairdo underneath Pharrell’s hat, Bay is not your run-of-the-mill performer. Even the first song on the album, “Craving,” is a little stale. It could have been performed by virtually any type of musician. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, though. After a few tracks in, most listeners will be in for a pleasant surprise.

The meat of the album is riveting, soulful, and all around worth listening to. “Hold Back The River,” track number two, occupies bittersweet choruses and an ample amount of guitar. “Let it Go,” potentially one of the best songs on the 12 track of piece of art, is simply mesmerizing. Vaguely similar to the same lamenting vocals so often heard from Danny O’Donoghue (lead singer for The Script), Bay sings his heart and soul on this track. Other prominent stand-outs include “Scars” and “Move Together,” both relatively melancholy.

Singer-songwriters often face difficulty– struggling to gain attention at small gigs and performances until they accumulate enough success for a potential record deal. How, then, has Bay separated himself from the rest? For starters, Bay’s choky, raspy, powerful vocals should not be underestimated. Somewhere (vocally) in between Ray Lamontagne and Bryan Adams, this hat bearing troubadour has an obvious one-up on any of the competition. Aside from his vocals, many of the songs truly are catchy. However, the album is not perfect. Chaos and the Calm is impressive, but it still has a long way to go in comparison to the works of Ed Sheeran. Not every track is that listenable, nor do Bay’s vocals shine passionately throughout the entire 12 song experience.

Chaos and the Calm is a distinctive piece of music. The album has a lot of positive attributes, but ultimately functions as a toss up. When put on shuffle, there’s no telling what type of song will play. “Let it Go” could easily provoke tears, while other tracks function as a Bruce Springsteen, cookie cutter wannabe. Nonetheless, there is still more good than bad here. The album does deserve– but perhaps on a slightly smaller scale– the amount of attention it has received. Chaos and the Calm is a brilliantly performed collection of heartfelt melodies. On the same note, a repetitive or bland track might pop up here and there– so be warned.