Last week, new British sensation James Bay finally debuted his album, Chaos and the Calm. The album was highly anticipated, as much by Bay himself as his quickly growing flock of fans. He has been compared to the talents of Ed Sheeran, and with such an incredible voice and depth for lyrics, there is no doubt Bay will go far.
Bay has worked hard since his initial start in 2013, recording music and putting out small, 5-track EPs like The Dark of the Morning (2013), Let It Go (May 2014), Hold Back the River (Nov. 2014), and most recently Other Sides (Jan. 2015). Everything has built up to Chaos and the Calm, and though the album features many songs already released on these EPs, the overall experience is a wonderful medley of the artist that is James Bay.
Bay opens with “Craving,” a completely new track that showcases the more upbeat side of the usually sensual singer-songwriter. The beat is immediately catching and the punch behind Bay’s voice in the opening bars of the chorus is quite powerful. The words “craving” and “ecstasy” match the mood of his voice perfectly.
“Hold Back the River” is a previously released track, yet for some reason this is the song I’m drawn to each time I put on Chaos and the Calm. The softness of the instruments paired with the sentiment of the song in Bay’s voice is beautiful. It’s an uplifting love song that makes you feel as if you are part of this romantic couple, picnicking along a serene English riverbank.
Bay follows with “Let It Go” and “If You Ever Want To Be In Love” two songs that are already major hits. You can hear more of our thoughts on these songs here.
Next comes a new song and definitely a new favorite, “Best Fake Smile.” This is a rare, upbeat dance-party jam from Bay. It’s got a great tambourine rhythm, accompanied by electric guitar riffs and an uplifting message to be true to yourself. The instant this song comes on you’ll dub it a winner.
“When We Were on Fire” is another previously released song, and it does indeed sound like original James Bay. It’s a bit brighter but still grounded in a very soulful Bay.
“Move Together” was released along with the previous track, though it is a complete 180 in sound and sentimentality.
“Scars” is a puzzling track to me, one I’ve come to consider the “disappearing track.” I swear this song was released previously, and I remember loving it as instantly as I had “Let It Go” and “IYEWTBIL.” Yet somehow after that first listen I could not find “Scars” again. Now I finally have it for keeps and will not be relinquishing it anytime soon. It’s a beautiful ballad full of the love and angst in Bay’s heart, displayed brilliantly in words, and performed heartbreakingly by his voice.
“Collide” was the first song recommended to me off of this album. It is the rocker side of Bay, with strong guitars and unique percussion that holds an energetic beat. Bay’s voice strains in a way that works for him, pushing the emotion through and building the tension the lyrics describe.
“Get Out While You Can” gets lost in the later songs of the album, causing it not to stand out as much. The musicality is generic James Bay, with a couple highlighted guitar solos. The lyrics aren’t romantic, but they are strong in a different way, similar to that of “Best Fake Smile.”
“Need the Sun to Break” is very much slowed down, even more so than “Move Together.” It’s closer to an acoustic track, embellishing the power of Bay’s voice when it is raw and free of instrumental restraint. The lyrics are rather sweet regarding the effects of love. The true testament, however, is the range of Bay’s voice, from soft to overpowering, gravelly to beyond a standard octave. Though not one of my favorite tracks, I always love when Bay puts the full force of his talent in a song. It’s truly the best live, and “Need the Sun to Break” would surely be a great acoustic showstopper.
“Incomplete” closes the album on an incredibly heart wrenching note. The guitar keeps it light and airy as Bay’s soft voice sings of heartbreak and learning to live “incomplete.” There is a moving use of backup vocals, giving the song a hymnal, sadly angelic feel. And just as this feeling builds, the song comes to an end, a clever reflection of its title and all Bay wishes to convey.
Overall, James Bay’s brilliance continues to shine through in Chaos and the Calm. Though I found myself drawn primarily to the previously released songs, I still enjoyed the new tracks and see a bright future for the emerging artist. Bay is beyond worth the listen, and his first full-length debut is worth every penny. Check Chaos and the Calm out on Spotify, or download the album on iTunes.
“Best Fake Smile”