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Gallant’s debut LP ‘Ology’ perplexes and dazzles in equal measure

The album artwork for "Ology" (Wikimedia Commons).

The album artwork for "Ology" (Wikimedia Commons).
The album artwork for “Ology” (Wikimedia Commons).

On his debut LP “Ology,” Gallant manages to appear at times classic and at times groundbreaking. But whether he’s reviving old sounds or creating new ones, he’s an invigorating new voice in contemporary R&B. The appeal is thanks not only to this juxtaposition of old and new but also to his technical skill as a singer. Gallant’s vocal instrument comfortably stands shoulder to shoulder with today’s (not to mention yesterday’s) R&B vocal greats. At the same time, it’s hard to know where to place Gallant in the context of the modern R&B scene.

He doesn’t quite fit in with current artists pushing the genre forward like Frank Ocean, Miguel and the Weeknd. He doesn’t fit into the scene of more alternative R&B artists like FKA twigs, Blood Orange and How to Dress Well. Nor can we lump him in with contemporary Soul/Motown/etc. revivalists such as Leon Bridges, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings or Charles Bradley, though he does exhibit throwback tendencies alongside more modern sounds. This is because Gallant’s first full-length LP “Ology” does a little bit of everything. As a result, though the album might lose a bit of precision and focus in trying to be several things at once, it shows off Gallant’s impressive range, positioning him as one of the most exciting new artists of 2016.

“Bourbon,” one of the lead singles off “Ology,” is an excellent example of Gallant’s prowess as a songwriter and vocalist – not to mention his stylistic range. The warm electronic production, coupled with Gallant’s hushed, immediately captivating vocals, initially brings to mind artists like How to Dress Well. However, Gallant quickly sets himself apart by demonstrating his incredible vocal range (in both falsetto and full voice), as well as his by-turns cryptic and direct lyricism. Enigmatic lines like “I’m a headless horseman on quilted sand dunes” stand alongside the striking refrain of “I’m shaking, and I need it like bourbon in my coffee cup.”

Though “Bourbon” sets Gallant apart from mainstream R&B with its ambiguous lyrics and alternative synth production, the melody, verse-chorus structure and thrilling vocals are relatively radio-friendly. In this sense, “Ology” is more direct and accessible than Gallant’s previous EP, “Zebra,” which boasts a more alternative sound. With “Ology,” Gallant throws his hat into the ring, not to merely be another idiosyncratic voice in the crowd but to be at the forefront of modern R&B.

That being said, Gallant is not a pop songwriter. We see this in the one-minute, atmospheric “Oh, Universe,” the production of “Miyazaki,” the ambiguous “First” and “Last,” which bookend the album (evoking Frank Ocean’s “Start” and “End” on “Channel Orange”) and Gallant’s lyrics. Despite his powerhouse voice and his penchant for memorable, striking melodies, Gallant is alternative, inspired by artists ranging from Seal to Sufjan Stevens. This is why Gallant is such an enigma. It is also why “Ology” is one of the most interesting and exciting albums of 2016 so far.

 

Contact Tyler Dunston at tdunston@stanford.edu.

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