Right off the bat, I did not expect for one of my favorite records of the year to have been nominated for a Grammy. If you know me well, you know that the Grammy awards aren’t the slightest blip on my radar; I forget they exist until the nominations come out, and then I usually forget again until the ceremony, which I do not watch. It’s understandably difficult to truly assess all music of one year, but the Grammys do nothing to spotlight true artists and innovators, giving away most of their statues during an event that is not televised (and barely publicized), and creating controversy with their absurd selections for the more coveted Record and Album of the Year prizes.
But this year, the Grammys glanced me twice, with the nominations of Fantastic Negrito (who won Best Contemporary Blues Album for his LP The Last Days of Oakland) and Gallant, for his debut record, Ology. If I had written this article earlier, I could have pretended to hope for him to win, but his fellow nominees in Best Urban Contemporary Album included Beyoncé… so sadly, he did not. That doesn’t lessen the significance of the gesture, especially for me, a lifelong hater of the entire institution.
Gallant’s debut was indeed noteworthy. It is a crisp, clean record, laced with classic stylings of R&B; echoes of the Isley Brothers and the Johnson siblings can be felt throughout Ology, but Gallant’s style is decidedly contemporary. I first heard his voice in a clip of a performance with Sufjan Stevens, dueting “Hotline Bling,” of all things. It led me to his infrequent YouTube series, In The Room, where his daring falsetto at the end of the first episode (also featuring Stevens), still gives me goosebumps. I hope to one day hear his voice live; I want there to be hairs permanently standing on the back of my neck.
Aside from the pure magic of his natural voice, the composition of Ology is superior. Its energy waxes and wanes, but Gallant’s strong presence doesn’t waver for the entirety of sixteen tracks, leading us quite literally from “First” to “Last.” And beyond his musical ability, I’m drawn to Gallant’s demeanor. His frowning motif informs my impression of him, especially because it invades the videos, too. When Seal says that he’s Gallant’s biggest fan, only in the last few seconds does the disdain on Gallant’s face give way to abashed amusement. Somewhere under that grey and gold glower, there is a tenderness, which was woven into each line of the album. At times you may feel heartsick, but Gallant’s powerful voice is always there to take your hand.
Best Albums of 2016
3. Gallant – Ology