There’s no good idea Jacob Collier can’t overstuff. That’s been apparent from his bedroom-produced YouTube days, when the London wonderboy was making cutesy covers of Stevie Wonder that leaned into jazz and classical modes, always winking at the camera with a sense of “ain’t I great?” That sort of prestigious power and cheek got him in Quincy Jones’ stable, on world tours and delivered a legion of saltatory fans. Those fans often come from choral backgrounds, not just due to Collier’s well-trained baritone, but more for his mind-boggling theory work. He’s the sort of composer to gleefully stroll through microtonal exercises and key changes that work like mathematical formulas rather than pop structures. Collier is a self-proclaimed autodidact, meaning all of this comes with no teachers; but Djesse Vol. 1 is more autofellatio.

For all of Collier’s obvious, occasionally face-melting talent, Djesse reads as the chamber equivalent of an Yngwie Malmsteen album, all technical trickery, no emotional backbone and even less enjoyment to be rung out. The opening is promising with “Home Is” morphing forward with a textured choral arrangement by way of Eric Whitacre’s stacked-harmonies, but unlike Whitacre’s paths to bone-shaking climaxes, “Home Is” just floats aimlessly in the ether, perfectly content to be pretty without a pulse. “Overture” continues the apathetic motif until it bursts into a gaudy mixture of Broadway themes and Disneyesque melodies, all of them bumping rudely into each other. It’s like sprinting through Disney World, glimpsing snippets of something much more interesting, only to be interrupted by a new sensory overload every few seconds.

With most of the songs clocking in at over five minutes, Djesse falls into this trap over and over again. Collier might find a catchy line, a fun rhythm or gorgeous chorus, but he discards them like a spoiled child. “With the Love in My Heart” has a promising string section that is utterly broken by the hipless funk that dominates the sound, like a geriatric blind man trying to sight read The Meters.

Laura Mvula and Hamid El Kasri show up, hopefully to explain to Collier’s fans that pop structures don’t need to be tortured to be interesting. Otherwise they’re completely wasted, with Collier’s inability to let a good thing stay ruining their brief guest spots. And hearing Mvula and Kasri is an unfortunate reminder that Collier’s natural pipes border on the unbearable. They’re technically excellent, pitch-perfect, but his bloated, pseudo-jazz swing sounds like Jamie Cullum on Quaaludes. It’s a sterilized, yawn-inducing baritone that, despite its pitch, seems about a decade away from hitting puberty.

And the sheer indulgence of it all makes Collier’s voice that much more punchable. Take the nine-and-a-half-minute-long “Once You,” which is, much like the rest of the album, perfectly content to lounge in its own delusions of grandeur. Plenty of classical and jazz musicians this decade have been able to combine pop and more esoteric fantasies into their work just fine. Nils Frahm’s quarter hour meditations are by turns calming and thrilling. Timbre’s fully fleshed out choral works strike between modern indie-pop and folk with acute balance and Daniel Elder’s film-score worthy compositions ride the fine line between moving and saccharine without patting themselves on the back for being terribly clever.

But Collier’s final damnation can be laid at the feet of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” It’s hard to nail String’s slow devolution into shlock, but Collier does it with aplomb, with so much shiny over-production that you’ll forget you ever enjoyed Regetta De Blanc. The overwhelming, eye-gouging self-pleasure of it all makes everything Collier touches that much harder to enjoy by proxy. He’s has taken all the oxygen out of the room with his own self-importance. And, if all goes according to plan, there will be three more volumes of Djesse this year. That isn’t a promise, it’s a threat.

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    July 18, 2019 at 2:26 am

    This is a superb review.

    Reply

  2. Terrence Meilak

    September 6, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    totally agree! Jacob Collier, although a “virtuoso” in the technical sense, simply doesnt appreciate music. His fans are shallow, and Jacob Collier himself is a wanker, product of a spoiled upper class upbringing, with nothing to say musically. Sometimes his fans say “just give him time!”. But he has produced nothing musically interesting yet. Autofellatio does sum it up. An autowanker.

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      May 5, 2020 at 4:30 pm

      I sense major jealousy to the point where you hate Jacob lmao

      Reply

  3. Thomas Wyler

    November 28, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    Criticism is easy, and art is difficult. Nathan Stevens, you remind me of another grumpy reviewer, John Peel, who thrashed Emerson, Lake and Palmer as being «a waste of talent and electricity» right at the start of their career. Granted, Jacob Collier’s motto is not pauca sed matura. But chill out! What’s wrong if some gifted musicians and performers want to push the envelope in terms of technical exuberance? Classical restraint or minimalism is not the only fruitful attitude in art – and I am saying this as a fan of Morton Feldman. I urge your readers to view David Bruce’s YouTube video «How to Modulate to G 1/2 Sharp (Jacob Collier-style)» to hear another voice.

    Reply

  4. Laurence

    May 16, 2020 at 4:41 am

    Collier’s a genius and the album’s wonderful

    Reply

  5. George P Milewski

    August 13, 2020 at 11:32 pm

    Thank You for stating the obvious.
    Complete lack of talent aside, why is this panty-waste so fucking gay?
    And, How do people subterfuge their appreciation of music with their perverted proclivities?
    Ridiculous insult to art and genuine creativity.
    Hell in a handbasket, with the likes of this (and so many other) exhibitionists.

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      August 21, 2020 at 11:00 am

      Thank you George for making sure we all know that you own a thesaurus (one of your own proclivities, perhaps?). Maybe you should’ve looked in there for a better insult than “gay. This being said, if you insist upon your own word choice you’d be writing off any music by the likes of Billy Strayhorn or Freddie Mercury (or are they perverted exhibitionists too?) Regardless, I’d hate to hear one of your Spotify playlists. Also,
      you
      don’t
      need
      to
      hit
      enter
      after
      every
      sentence.

      Reply

  6. Doug

    August 16, 2020 at 6:09 am

    Nathan is obviously unqualified to review Collier. The fact that he even tried is commendable, but what Jacob is up to is so far over his head it’s laughable.

    Reply

  7. Anonymous

    August 21, 2020 at 7:56 am

    Imagine trying to write off recognition from Quincy Jones himself in a demeaning way, and omitting any mention of the Grammy-winning track on this album because it makes your entire flawed argument fall apart.

    Reply

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