ALBUM REVIEW: James Bay basks in Electric Light

On his 2015 debut album, Chaos And The Calm, James Bay introduced his rockier take on the folk singer-songwriter formula. After letting his soulful tone sink in for three years, Bay is back with something a little spicier. With a young Johnny Depp haircut and fashion upgrade (he’s looks nothing like a folkie anymore), Bay’s shiny Electric Light guides audiences to dance along with a beat they may not have expected. Electric Light keeps what worked on Bay’s debut, but expands his niche into electro-pop.

Electric Light
James Bay
May 18

The lyricism of “Slide” brings a familiar sentimentality through unabashed exploration of the deceitful and incomprehensible human heart. Bay places great importance on thoughtful diction, picking apart the process of moving on from lost loves and at times falling into the wrong arms for fear of loneliness. Loneliness becomes a recurring theme throughout Electric Light, which is most prominent on “Fade Out.” The song’s irresistible charm translates through Bay’s authentic soulful R&B tones as he vents about a girl whose selfish love is only given during her bouts of visceral loneliness.

Bay strengthens his dynamics with overwhelming electronic input, supporting his guitar with programmed beats. Although his theme centers on infatuation and self-awareness, James Bay’s songs elicit tremendous empathy. On “Wild Love” and “Stand Up,” he blends his sultry voice with a processed beat to create a Bon Iver-meets-the Chainsmokers feel. Long gone is the acoustic guitar, creating a place for an electro-pop groove to propel him.

Although Electric Light is rich with programmed beats, Bay also expands his vision to include alt-rock and even hints of gospel. Evoking the infectious bassline of “Do I Wanna Know” by the Arctic Monkeys, Bay shows that he can indeed excel at a more raw garage rock aura while staying in line with the sexy tone. His knack for more straightforward rock continues on single “Pink Lemonade.” Cloaked in cinematic ’80s pastels, the song’s charming storytelling will have Bay playing through speakers for years to come.

Bay’s technical proficiency stems partly from his versatility to jump to genres with little overlap. On curveball cut “In My Head,” he pays homage to Chance the Rapper’s beloved gospel vibrancy, pairing harmonies with stylistic taste to provide a breath of fresh air on an album of amalgamated genres.

On Electric Light, James Bay has coined a whole new name for himself—one that dispels any preconceived notions his listeners may have conceived based on his previous album and look. If there’s one thing James Bay is not, it’s predictable. Managing to remain within the introspective parameters he set up for himself early on, his stylistic fusion succeeds in its surprise.

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