Ology isn’t all melancholy philosophizing.
Gallant’s “Weight in Gold” is one of the more stunning breakthrough singles to come out in recent memory, but it also seemed somewhat unsustainable. The song is a glittering, operatic R&B ballad that thrives by contrasting its minimalist verses with a tidal wave of a chorus. It’s the kind of single that could potentially herald the coming of a truly special talent. The mercurial singer’s sudden rise came thanks to his affiliation with electronic producer ZHU and the mysterious Mind of a Genius Records, an L.A. based label home to a roster of enigmatic indie R&B acts including THEY. and Klangstof. “Weight in Gold” premiered last June via Zane Lowe and 4.7 million SoundCloud streams later the world was suddenly exposed to his emotional, gripping brand of high-stakes soul.
His debut record is now out a little less than a year later, but the concern with Ology was whether Gallant’s penchant for soul-searching tragedy would grow grating or gimmicky over a full-length LP. Fortunately, the record succeeds more often than not, thanks to Gallant’s buttery vocals and immense production, largely provided by STiNT. “Shotgun” is an early highlight, with a booming instrumental that’s rounded out by deep brass and soaring strings. It’s the kind of emotional, stadium pop-R&B that artists like Sam Smith traffic in, but with more of a backbone thanks to its hip-hop edge.
Ology thankfully isn’t all melancholy philosophizing, and “Episode” proves that Gallant is fully capable of crafting uptempo tunes (think Sam Smith’s “Restart”). The bouncy cut has serious single potential thanks to his lush falsetto, an irresistible bass line and punchy percussion. The subject matter here remains serious—it’s about Gallant’s relationship struggles—but it’s thrilling to hear him sing atop an instrumental with so much life.
“Bourbon” is another winner, fiery and warm (a bit like its namesake). Reminiscent of Dornik, the track’s message of detoxing from a ruthless love is conveyed with plenty of earnestness and passion by Gallant. Had it come out as his debut, it could have easily had the same seismic impact as “Weight in Gold.” The short but sweet “Miyazaki” might not have much to do with the director of the same name, but it’s a smooth, vintage soul record that benefits from a clever flip of Groove Theory’s “Tell Me.” It’s an interesting departure from the rest of the record and poses an interesting question of what Gallant’s sound would be if his music was a touch more mellow.
There are moments where the record veers toward the histrionic and the songs can get a bit off-putting, like the melodramatic “Bone + Tissue.” The melody and backup vocals give the track an early 2000s boy band pop vibe, and the central existential question (“Tell me I’m a monument to more than bone and tissue?”) is too on the nose. These are the kinds of songs that Gallant would be wise to excise from his catalogue in a few years as he continues maturing and growing as an artist.
The album’s sole feature is singer Jhené Aiko, who shows up on “Skipping Stones,” a track that features vintage, dusty production from STiNT and Adrian Younge. The two vocalists have legitimate chemistry, and it’s refreshing to hear another voice after 11 songs of Gallant stretching his range. It would’ve been interesting to hear Gallant work with a few more guests to pull him out of his comfort zone, but that’s something that’ll likely come on his sophomore and junior records.
Ology is a solid debut that manages not to crumble under the weight of its heavy subject matter. Gallant is a musician of true talent, and his best work will come when he finds a bit more balance between his Atlas act and some lighter, breezier fare.