I’ll get right to it. Gallant, with all his monumental talents, has created an uneven first album in Ology. Uneven in oddest way, as it’s clear he put his focus into the album being a complete work, creating a smooth connectedness throughout. On top of that, the songs themselves are all good; yes, there are some I like more than others, but overall it’s very listenable. A couple of issues I have is with his eagerness to push his voice, and also the overall repetition: repetition of sound, mood, style, backing harmonies, etc. Now, it’s extremely possible that I’m holding him to a higher standard as his abilities seem limitless, but still I think there are some learning curves he’ll need to deal with before he ascends to the level he’s capable of.
Ology is good, but could be so much better. If you were to play me each song individually I would be head over heels, but as a whole it felt like too much, too forced. His 2014 EP Zebra actually felt like a more mature release in terms of execution, bringing a variety of elements to the table that all fit together perfectly, an impressive nine piece puzzle. He never thrusts his vocal strength into tracks, in fact he’s almost too subtle, never pushing it to the limit, and the EP benefitted from that. It also features what is still my favorite song of his to date, “Sirens.” With Ology he trades in his Zebra producer, the talented Felix Snow, for STiNT, who was behind 10 of the albums 16 tracks. While I think STiNT’s work is good and that he and Gallant no doubt play off each other well, four ofthe albums best tracks were ones that STiNT was not involved in: the beautiful and heavy “Bourbon, the upbeat groove “Episode,” the serene closer “Chandra,” and the relentless “Jupiter” (the last minute of this is a vocal masterclass). I guess while I’m at it, the other two tracks STiNT was absent on were a couple of excellent short tracks, the mystic “Oh Universe” and the sweet slow jam “Miyazaki,” which acted more as connecting pieces than fully formed songs. This doesn’t mean that STiNT didn’t kill it, as the opening track “Talking To Myself,” the album’s lead single “Weight In Gold,” and the the dreamy “Counting,” are all spectacular. Though it was never the songs themselves I had an issue with.
Earlier I mentioned the album’s repetition and most of that stems from Gallant’s use of his voice and the way he tackles his harmonies and layerings. Many times he follows the same pattern or falls into the same arc. Yes, it sounds good, but don’t use it on every song. Often times what plagues albums from artists with unreal vocals is their willingness to use them. I know that might seem weird, but it follows the “too much of a good thing” warning (Adam Lambert are you listening!), and younger artists aren’t the only ones who fall victim to this. When you show off too much it becomes less of a novelty and more “we get it, you can sing.” Make us want it, tease us a bit, and then when we’ve all but forgotten it exists, throw it down. We know you can sing, and we want to hear it, but don’t rely on that as your main weapon, you still need to construct a strong track lyrically and musically, so that when the oddity of your impressive vocals wears off we still have something to cling to. I think that’s one thing that Florence + the Machine does so well. They creates such a unique atmosphere that even without Florence's powerhouse voice there is so much to love. The fact that she can kill it vocally elevates everything, rather than being the reason it’s good.
As far as Ology's transitions go, for the most part, they are masterful, keeping the album running smoothly, removing the desire to skip to specific tracks. There’s no better example of this than “Miyazaki” to “Counting” to “Percogesic,” a combination that is pure CANDY. This is also a three song stretch where he lets his vocals take it easy and it allows you to fall into the flow. Those three are followed up with “Jupiter” in which his vocal dominance is released in full force and it felt like the heaven’s shining down from the clouds. NO EXAGGERATION. This was the moment when I realized what the album could have been, there is so much potential here! Unfortunately he follows “Jupiter” with two more tracks where he pushes his vocals to the brink, and it brings me back down. The thing is, the two songs I’m talking about, “Open Up” and Jhene Aiko featured “Skipping Stones,” are really good. “Skipping Stones” is REALLY good. But had he instead removed those two tracks and followed ‘Jupiter” with the emotional “Chandra” it would have been so much more impactful. Food for thought.
At it’s best Ology is an album to be revered. Gallant’s talents are clear and his mission defined. It’s obvious he knows how to create a hit, and I imagine he’ll have plenty. But, an album is the sum of its parts, and while each part may be a quality output, together they leave something to be desired. Would I have loved for the interlude “Oh, Universe” to have played into the beginning of “Weight In Gold” rather than fade out and then have “Weight In Gold” start from scratch? Yes. Does that take away from both those tracks being magnificent? No. It’s easy to imagine a future in which Gallant puts together album of the year, which is no small task, he’s that good. Despite my criticism I hope it’s clear that I have so much respect for his talent. He’s truly unique and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next. In the meantime, we’ve got enough juice here to keep us busy for awhile.