This week's "Paul's Pick" album review
By Paul Jacobson | Echo
When you have a voice as bold and beautiful as Gallant’s, you’re bound to turn some heads. Since the release of his EP “Zebra” in 2014, he’s garnered acclaim from Elton John, Sufjan Stevens, Zane Lowe and Seal, and has been compared to R&B contemporaries like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, as well as the aforementioned Seal.
Despite this, I didn’t care for “Zebra.” It sounded no different from Soundcloud’s endless stream of bland alt R&B and trap musicians, such as Cashmere Cat, Flume and SOHN. Gallant’s voice was the most impressive element, so I wondered how much more enjoyable he would be with proper instrumentation. My curiosity was only heightened after seeing him perform live. It seems Gallant thought about this too, as “Ology” has greatly expanded the singer’s sound.
Right off the bat, we’re greeted by a nice, chopped-up piano sample and a brief horn swell on the track “Talking to Myself.” Other songs like “Shotgun”and “Jupiter” boast live drums, pianos and guitars. These songs tend to sound more full and lively compared to the synth-focused tracks.
However, “Talking to Myself” also starts a trend that pops up on the rest of the album. The song putters along in cruise control until Gallant bursts in with his signature falsetto. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. Most pop songs utilize this “wall of sound” technique to overwhelm their listener (David Guetta’s “Titanium” is a prime example of this). It’s definitely enjoyable in bursts, listening to a song here or there, but so many of the songs on “Ology” rely on his falsetto explosion. It gets tiresome when listening to the album in one sitting.
Most of the tracks on “Ology” have a beat that falls into one of two categories: a more traditional R&B beat, or a more trap and southern hip-hop-influenced beat. Gallant does fine with both genres, but I much prefer the songs with smoother grooves of R&B than the trap snares and hi-hats. The trap-influenced tracks come across as bland and uninspired, while the R&B tracks have a little bit of life to them.
Gallant throws a curveball halfway through the album with “Episode,” an ode to ’70s funk. While I don’t care for recent interpretations of funk (see Blood Orange’s “Cupid Deluxe” and Haim’s “Days Are Gone”), Gallant’s take is undeniably satisfying. Similar to Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta,” “Episode” is fun because the track is backed by a really groovy bass line.
Ultimately, Gallant’s biggest strength is also the cause of the album’s faults. At points, it feels as if the backing tracks aren’t allowed to outshine his voice, so they make no attempt at being compelling. I really want to like this album more than I do. There are flashes of interesting songwriting on “Oh, Universe” and “Chandra,” and the lyrics are thoughtful throughout, but the project as a whole is both propped up and weighed down by Gallant’s voice. Sure, everyone can do a couple pull-ups, but very few can do fifty. As it stands, Gallant is not one of those people.