If It Hurts
Brave, spectral soulfulness and ethereal R&B, from this 21-year-old L.A.-based talent: guaranteed to shiver the spine.
If It Hurts is available at:
The tracks that will appear on the (Felix Snow-produced) Zebra E.P., are available at:
THE qualitative nature of the voice, is something that is always at the…
forefront of my mind. When considering a solo artist- be they new or existing- a lot of emphasis and consideration is given toward the nature of the voice. If you happen to be a fantastic lyricist or musician (how few there are of them); then consideration is paid to the words and themes. The likes of Laura Marling (as well as having a distinctive and powerful voice) have their songs poured over; the lyrics and ideas are interpreted and picked apart- with many critics postulating and theorising hidden depths and meanings. For the rest of the solo scene, the major focus is paid to the vocal prowess. Shows such as The Voice are doing no favours to the scene as a whole. When winners and runners-up from these shows enter the marketplace; they have already been moulded/moulded themselves into a Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera or Whitney Houston proximity- for the guys there are obvious influences too. As much as the band market is growing and bursting at the seams- and is producing some of the best music at the moment- the life and trajectory of the solo artist is as fascinating as any. Over the past few months, there have been a few promising endeavours: I have heard of some genuinely unique and exciting talent. When the full creative and personal weight is placed on one set of shoulders- without having band members to assist- it is always harder to make decisions; put yourself ahead of the crowd and really stand out. I have heard some terrific female voices in the U.K.: from Yorkshire-based ’40s swing stylings, through to New York soul evocations. It is always a great pleasure to happen across a uniquely exciting voice: one which catches you by surprise and keeps you listening- and has you spreading the good word far and wide. A lot of excitement concerning the solo market tends to be pointed towards male shores. In the mainstream, as well as amongst the up-and-comers; focus still tends to be levied heavily towards the male market. I have never had a lot of respect for a lot of the current crop of male solo artists. Currently talent such as Tom Odell are being heralded and championed: to my mind he has limited emotional range and an unremarkable voice/set of songs. Away from him, there is a lot of residual fascination towards the likes of Bon Iver, Matt Corby and Ed Sheeran- artists still touring, but not currently in the studio. As a male songwriter- whom, until a band can be located; is a lone wolf- I am always readily-tuned to the solo market. I respect the amount of hard work and tenacity it takes to make your first steps- let alone become successful; hold onto public fascination. There are no other humans to hide behind; so additional members to take the burden: the priority and emphasis is on you and you alone. Taking this into consideration, I provide a measure of grace and consideration towards new solo artists; but I have to say one thing: I am not overly-impressed at the moment. The likes of Odell and Sheeran are very young- and to my mind- years and bounds off of being considered exceptional. Neither has a strong or memorable voice (they seem quite bland in fact) and lyrically they are good at best; but tend towards banality, immaturity and cliché: their overall sound and artistry is somewhat sub-par and unimpressive. Away from the aforementioned- whom mainly appeal to the young female market- there are one or two great singers. Matt Corby is an Australian singers whom (erase the fact that he appeared on the Australian version of X Factor) is a worthy songwriter and potent voice- and is still in his 20s. As much as the man has a powerful and guttural roar- as well as a sweet-natured potentiality- I find myself ambivalent. His songs are strong enough (the lyrics often are deep and poetic; the sound diverse and unexpectedly powerful); yet his range seems limited. As a songwriter the tracks all tend to stick to the tried-and-tested love-gone-wrong-discuss parable; and his compositions have a ‘hallmark’ sound, that often shows a lack of flexibility or elasticity. It is the vocal ‘limitations’ (perhaps a harsh term, but I can’t think of a more appropriate one) that trouble me the most. He has that impressive and dominant growl and plenty of oxygen in his big lungs- capable of taking the wind out of your own- yet there seems to be no ace up the sleeve. His voice seems stunning and unique over the course of a few E.P.s, yet when L.P.s and future singles arrive, one feels that the appeal will wear off; if he can’t add layers and tones to his voice (as well as song writing); you have to entertain the possibility that he will not be on the scene years from now. My point is that voices can appear fascinating at first- whether it is due to a great emotional range or a U.S.P.-yet given time (and successive E.P.s/albums) can have its essence distilled: simply because it becomes less startling as time goes on. The female market has a similar expiration issue. A vast majority of new female voices can be sweet-sounding and ‘cute’- yet lack in power and soulfulness- or else they are soulfully operatic and sexy: but when you examine closely, they are lacking in individuality and differing colours. A great deal of female solo artists- in the U.K. at least- have been celebrated critically (Emile Sande; Laura Marling; Adele; Jessie Ware etc.); but have been so, due to an incredible talent that covers song writing, presentation, musicality, emotion- as well as the voice itself. Eyes and ears are primed and hungry for solo artists whom have something different and stunning about them: whether this is a voice capable of longevity, or a great backstory and personality…
This all brings me to the case of Gallant. I came across the Maryland-born artist via The Guardian‘s ‘New band of the day’ segment (something that has provided many opportunities for me). That profile feature highlighted at the importance of the assemble of a track- as opposed to the vocal alone. I think a lot of the current malaise, stems from the lack of evocative and gripping music that accompanies a vocal performance. Whilst female talent like Marling can bring a folk texturing to her songs; Adele a bigger and bolder sound; Ware classical and ethereal edges, and Lianne La Havas mixes various sounds into the boiling pot; most do not put too much thoughts into the overall composition. For a vast majority of the solo scene, too many acoustic/electric guitars rule the land; too little consideration is given over to atmosphere- resulting in unambitious and uninspiring compositions. It is not a coincidence that the talents whom put more thoughts into the overall ‘sound’ of the song- considering each compositional aspect carefully- that merit the grandest plaudits. Gallant is a star whom has taken a lot of time to make music that can inspire and encapsulate. Most of my recent attention has been paid towards U.K. talent and acts- with some focus on Swedish and European sounds. Perhaps the most impressive and varied tracks have emanated from U.S. artists: ranging from L.A. sunshine pop, through to Missouri teenage punk. It seems to be a nation that is fostering the most agile and electioneering new music. In the U.K. we have some great young artists coming through- whether they will stand the test of time is another matter- yet the U.S.A. have a bolder and more enterprising approach to the matter of new music. Granted I have largely been exposed to the band market and duos (with some solo work in there too); I have noticed that there seems not to be a ‘staple sound’: there is less homogenisation (and a need to sound like existing artists). We in the U.K. need to take notes from the U.S.- with regards to how to bring the best talent to attention quickly- as some of the most fascinating sounds of the moment are coming from there. Our 21-year-old from the ‘Old Line State’ has had an itinerant existence (in such a short time); locating to New York, and then to L.A.- where he current calls home. He is a new talent, yet his voice has been compared to the like of Michael Jackson (The Guardian are amongst several to make this comparison). Gallant has a trembling and evocative falsetto that is as much parts etherealness as it does mystique and hidden depth. Few current artists can claim to possess such pipes: that mix falsetto and divinity within a musical framework, and posses the diversity and range to soundtrack any song. The likes of Bruno Mars have had Jackson comparisons made; yet (and to my mind) his lyrics are too juvenile and his sound too limited and unappealing (in fact some of his lyrics come across as truly shocking and appalling). Newer and less well-known acts such as Night Beds have displayed some of Gallant’s majesty (listen to Even If We Try); but away from these examples there are few comparisons. A great deal of the excitement surrounding Gallant’s sounds are because of the ‘sound’ itself: Felix Snow is responsible for adding texture, emotion and fascination to his tracks. Gallant is making big impressions with his talent alone, yet it is when he collaborates with Snow, that a lot of the ‘magic’ occurs. Artists such as SZA- whom has also worked with Snow- attest to the producer’s chops. SZA is responsible for some The Weeknd-inspired music: that which mixes R&B etherealness with some synthesised panache. Where as other producers would add odd effects; overbearing noise, and clichéd touches; Snow would employ the sound of wind chimes, whistles and supernatural chill to the mood: enforcing the songs fully, and adding layers of nuance and wonder. It was this endeavouring and pioneering work ethic that was brought to Gallant’s E.P., Zebra. That E.P. is not released until August, yet is a collection that has gained a lot of kudos and respect; not only because of Gallant’s core talent- but due to Snow’s special touch. Few artists would touch any song by Ke$ha (I personally find her to be repulsive; with no redeeming features), yet Gallant saw a glimmer of hope in her Die Young; wringing out the Auto-Tune plastic-ness; scrubbing away at the fake and perfunctory studio noise: and transformed it into something special indeed. That song- which is a rarity for Ke$ha- has some subtext to it: quite dark in fact, according to Gallant. By concentrating on this, and adding a new sound and vitality to the track (with Snow’s helming); a ghostly and haunted chill that one would never associate with Ke$ha herself (well not in a good way at least). The ‘producer aspect’ is not something that is ever concentrated on when considering solo talent- what a great support they can be with regards to enhancing a sound. William Orbit and Mark Ronson are probably the two most recent examples of producers whom can add so much texture and subterfuge to a track; and it seems that the Gallant/Snow partnership could last a long time. With Snow having worked with the likes of Shaggy (if you can believe it); he brings experience and a weight of authority to our young artist’s work- helping to get the most out of that incredible voice. Let us not focus too much on Snow: instead a bit more about Gallant himself. We here in the U.K. are new to the joys of the Maryland troubadour- in fact a lot of people will be experiencing his name for the very first time. Not much is revealed through social media- good in a way, as a sense of mystery, longing and wonder is brought to mind- our hero keen not to give needless information away; presenting the essential facts: the music itself. His online profile is building momentum: on Facebook he has 1,241 ‘Likes’ (as of July 1st, 13:54- G.M.T.); as well as 1,143 Twitter ‘Followers’- I suspect that a lot more will show their support in the run-up to the E.P.’s release. A sense of humbleness and appreciation are evident, when one surveys the social media pages of Gallant (as well as his official site). He is filled with respect and thanks for any reviewer or new fan: a man thankful that his work is being given the credit it deserves. Gallant has a personable and likeable personality: at once an enigmatic figure; the next a ubiquitous and effusive. Scant praise is given- in these times- to considerable talent; so it is always great to happen upon new talent (if in this case it is vicariously). Gallant’s personal website (http://sogallant.com/) is awash with kooky and charming photographs; insightful commentary- Dadaesque, impressionist, abstract and impressionistic strokes and scenes can be found. Barring the occasional misadventure (there seems to be a genuine appreciation for Justin Bieber- we all are allowed a vice, right? Although if I have misunderstood on this occasion, I apologise) our L.A.-based hero is every bit the modern-day idol: letting his music do most of the talking, and making you draw your own conclusions about the man behind the voice. It is to that voice that we pull towards, once more. The forthcoming Zebra E.P. displays a young artists capable of bold and innovative interpretation (his take on Die Young); as well as a brave original voice; adept at incisive and thought-provoking lyrics (mature as well for a man in his early-20s).
The opening moments to If It Hurts have their roots in ’90s U.K. There is a little bit of Massive Attack’s trip hop experimentation to be heard; as well as Radiohead’s electronic movements, circa Kid A/Amnesiac. There is a ghostly quiver and moan, with a pulsing and persistent beat that infuses it. One can practically detect Thom Yorke hovering in the mix; as the evocation of Yorke- and current-day U.S. hip hop-can be detected in the initial notes. Once that parable has let the wind swallow it; a guitar arpeggio elicits: at first it goes solo, before joining with the haunted coda; to summon up plenty of shivers. Introductions are hard to get right- and make impressive and impactful- so it is all the more sterling that Gallant produces such a weight (within a mere few seconds). Snow’s innovation and golden touch help to summon up a riot of atmosphere and intrigue. Initially Gallant’s voice is- for want of a better phrase- a ghost in the machine: he seems distant and dislocated looking over the scene and sound; adding his tender tones to the mix. Initial thoughts have room for interpretation: “Not enough colors (sic.) in the world, thought I would invent some”. The etherealness could suggest some introversion or emotion; yet the words point towards a young man whom wants to bring more joy and passion to the world. He is an artist whom could “fade to black/Jump-cut to alone/Cross-fade to emotion”: backed by a tribal and heart-wrenching percussive beat (which adds some punch and kick to proceedings). Gallant’s voice never dwells or ponders too much- in the sense that it becomes maudlin or saddened- instead the tenderness and light touches he weaves into the tapestry (backed by a beat that is potent as well as catchy) will make you sit to attention, get caught up; and listen carefully to what is coming next. Such is the ever-changing nature of the track (it changes course and directionality a few times before the 1:00 marker, that your thoughts cannot catch their breath), that fascination and authority are kept at a maximum: the mood seems content to endeavour and electioneer, rather than sit still. Atmospherics and electronic lustre are put at the top of the mix; forcing their way into your brain- as our hero unveils a wordless coda that mixes breathy sigh with falsetto hold. There is at once evocations of classic Radiohead; modern-day European electronic music; as well as the sound of 2013 L.A. The sweet-smelling melting pot whips up a heady smoke: multi-coloured, fragrant and intoxicating. As the wordless chorus continues, that persistent and foot-tapping beat gets under your skin: it has its own gravity that supports the vocal, but also creates its own pull. As Gallant’s echoed voice comes back into the fold, the chorus makes its mark. Talk of: “If it hurts, then baby you’re all I need” shows tenderness and mature sensitivity; as “I’m thinking reality could happen- make it complete” hints at a heart- broken or aching- that is longing for satisfaction. The unnamed and anonymous centre-of-attention is causing a little tribulation: yet the abiding sensation is one of a young man wanting to find happiness. The tender-minded parable is repeated (for maximum emotional impact); our hero’s voice aching and imploring with aplomb. I can see where the Jackson comparables are born from. Gallant’s vocal has a similarly-stunning litheness: it is feminine and sturdily masculine all at once. A little bit of Jackson’s Off the Wall majesty can be detected in Gallant’s tones (as well as a similar lyrical maturity); yet it would be unfair to solely focus on the late King of Pop’s flavours. Yes, there is a little of The Weeknd’s evocations; but a sharp and focused originality can be heard: our U.S. hero is more spellbinding and captivating than any obvious names. During the chorus (and the song as a whole) there is a strong soul vibe that comes to the fore. If Prince were starting his career all over again, he would probably produce a If It Hurts paradox- although whether the Snow-infused layers would be employed is another question. In the way that our hero stretches, repeats and reintroduces the chorus- like a hypnotic wave- one gets washed away and intoxicated by its intentions. Messages of “If it hurts, then baby you’re all I need” come back around; constantly calling out to the anonymous paramour to let him in- to ease her burden and let Gallant in. If the simplicity and simple honest is the hallmark of the track’s first two minutes or so; then the remainder is demarcated by intrigue (and some obliqueness). We begin with some openness-cum-bold endeavour: “Not afraid to show myself the truth, to see what I’ve been missing“- it’s clever wordplay and evocativeness are impressive indeed. It seems that there is a lot on our hero’s mind- both good, bad and complicated- that needs to be resolved and exalted. Whatever the circumstances behind If It Hurt’s origins- an open love letter; a personal exhumation; retrospective examination- it seems that a more pressing thought (is troubling our idol): “But then again, the midnight I was in was so much more appealing”. It is hard not to draw your mind away from Jackson or The Weeknd; and back towards the likes of Mr. Yorke: the intricacies and mood-setting evocativeness suggest some of the Oxford man’s wonder. It is this line that will remain longest in your consciousness: what it means; what it intended; what is in our hero’s mind. There is some modern reference and relevance to the Snow-helmed sonic blasts: a bit of hip/trip hop; a bit of modern pop and Indie lines as well- yet whereas some of those genre’s examples employ similar sounds as ephemera; here it is used to intensify and emphasise the emotion and openness that is proffered. The combination of wordless coo (both choral and deeply personal); combined with the heartbeat-like percussive line is ridden for a while; before the chorus returns to pioneer once more. Authority, conviction and intention are hallmarks of Gallant’s vocal line: words are punctuated, pointed and emphasised to make his message stand out. If words such as “I’m thinking reality could make it”- backed by a swooning and potent sonic swathe- don’t make their mark; then a granite heart you possess. Additional layers and kicks are added to the snowballing composition: making the final stages more intense and emotionally-charged. For the final seconds, the intro.’s guitar arpeggio is reintroduced: calming the nerves; settling us to landing, and beautifully bookending the composition. In just over 4 minutes, a great amount of fascination and potency has been sewn: the track’s aftereffects are quite startling. In a modern scene where there is too much Auto-Tune; too little genuine sounds and voices, and a heavy reliance on noise; not sound.
It may be the case that the U.S. continues to produce some of the most fascinating new music. Two of the best albums of this year have been turned in by American talent (The National’s Trouble Will Find Me and Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork). Whilst here in the U.K. we have managed to produce an album that could contest for medals (Laura Marling’s Once I Was an Eagle); the majority of the best and brightest music today is U.S.-born. In this country there is still a big issue with homogenisation and over-familiarity. Too many Indie bands are present; with it seeming to be the favoured sound- and is an issue that will only get worse. You have to dig really hard to uncover some genuinely great music; and even more so when trying to locate some terrific solo gold. I am not on a downer (when it comes to solo talent); yet it seems that for every 100 or so new acts arrive- possible half a dozen remain in the memory (and the marketplace) years later. There is an over-reliance to just turn up on the scene; armed with an acoustic guitar; play some nice tunes about falling in love (and out); repeat 11 or 12 times… and that’s it. For every Marling or Adele there are dozens of Sheerans and Odells- it is a balance and injustice that needs to be righted as soon as possible. I believe that solo artists have the biggest potential- both short and long-term- as a shift away from the band-heavy market will become apparent. Gallant is a perfect example of an artist (young at that) whom is starting out differently- someone going against a predictable flow. The lyrics are emotionally-charged and deep: containing enough mystery and relatability to intrigue and soothe. It is not just Gallant’s wordsmith-potential that is striking; but the range of emotions and styles over the course of three tracks. Zebra is a brave E.P.: a debut release that contains a cover version; yet is one which will be talked about fervently. Gallant’s interpretative qualities- as well as originality- mark the E.P.’s tracks out as amongst some of the strongest you will hear this year. This is something that is made possible by two more (dominant) facets: the stirring voice and excellent production. Snow’s legendary and authoritative helming not only brings the tracks to life- making sure everything is essential and captivating- but it is the little (and big) touches that he adds that make it that much stronger- and there are quite a few additions. The combination of Snow and Gallant works much the same as Orbit and Madonna (Ray of Light), as well as William Orbit, Fatboy Slim and Ben Hiller’s Blur collaboration (Think Tank)- a perfect blend of two different minds; combining splendidly. The mixture of beautiful- and at some times, otherworldly- vocals; combined with some strange and splendid sounds; makes the songs what they are. It is the voice itself that stands out as much as anything. It has some timbre of early-career Jackson; as well as mid-career Yorke: but is its own man and beast, and is not subject to easy categorisation. Gallant has a sound that posses shades of the past; as well as a dedicated and impassioned love of music. He may have travelled from Maryland to L.A. (via New York); yet it seems that London would like him as a resident; as his talent and collaborative spirit is something that is much-needed in the capital (and the U.K.). My anxieties about the new music scene will never be completely abated (given the questionable quality of a lot of new acts); yet with artists such as Gallant arriving; making some impressive and large first steps, my reticence and trepidations may have to take a back seat. I am always impressed by a great voice- one that is original and not prefabricated- and especially one that ties striking lyrics and bold sounds together seamlessly. Change begets change, and my hope is that there will be a paradigm shift away from bland and lipid acoustic solo work; as well as plastic and nauseating pop (Rhianna, Katy Perry and yes…Ke$ha) and towards the likes of Gallant. The current crop- as well as generations yet to come- need some sturdy and solid sounds to be inspired by; and if they are not readily available, then a somewhat underwhelming scene is produced. Gallant’s sound is redolent of a (stronger) past era: one that was more abound with innovation and risk-taking; so I dearly hope that his spirit and determination continues. It is always great being surprised by music, and If It Hurts certainly does that- what more can you ask for? Its honest and earnestness; as well as mystery and open-for-interpretation edges cement beautifully: the result of a studied and mature songwriter. The sonic evocations and atmosphere that is elicited (with Snow’s assistance) gives the number a ghostly and disassociated impression that lingers long into the mind. Overall it is a song which will subvert expectations (in a good way); as well as go a long way to re-appropriating any disinclinations about new music’s potential. I am thankful (most of the time) that publications and websites such as The Guardian (and specifically their ‘New band of the day’ segment) are available; so that we here in the U.K. are made aware of great U.S. (and international acts). I am always appalled that there are not better channels of connection and awareness; but it is a problem I am trying to work on as we speak (trust me on this). The next few weeks will be busy for our L.A.-based artist: the E.P.’s released; promotion will follow; touring and gig commitments and bookings will surely be an issue. Once all the dust has settled, and the public have absorbed and experienced Zebra‘s wonders; I hope Gallant will play more in the U.K. His sound and appeal is something that easily translates here, and one suspects that the likes of Europe and Australia will jump readily on board (I know that Northern Europe and Australia will welcome the music with open arms). Regardless of my fears about new music; as well as my desire for more spectral voices, I feel that the next few years will play host to few artists like Gallant. Whether this trend is going to be a result of the lack of likewise talent; a scarcity of great music websites (making us aware of new music)-or a combination of the two- is unclear; yet it is apparent that more people are made aware of worthy talent, capable of longevity. So.. I am going to try and assist (as much as possible), and hope that more people here latch onto If It Hurts and spread the word. Gallant is a modest young man, and someone who appreciates kudos, representation and reviews, so I hope that he has many E.P.s and L.P.s in him- as I am genuinely genuine when I hear great music. Few artists (especially new young artists) inspire people like me (30-year-old songwriter in awe of the established masters); yet I have been compelled to write: “Drink until we’re numb, drink until we’re dumb enough to keep on thinking more/I’m offered salt to quench my thirst/Crawl along the floor, climb up the walls until we confuse the battle with the war/And die for so much worse”. What it means: I am not sure. What it will lead to: who knows? One thing is for certain: if music (even a single track) can bring about creative output (however miniature/personally interesting); as well as adulation and bona fide excitement, then what more could you ask for…?
WELL… that you listen hard; and wait with bated breath for the upcoming E.P.