Christopher Gallant’s parents weren’t musical. From the start of his experiments with music, he was laughed at by his friends. As long as he’s been a musician, his relationship with the art has always been private, and personal. It’s the kind of intimacy that’s felt when an artist shares a real part of themselves on record, as he does on his debut LP Ology, out April 8 on Mind of Genius. With abstract, colorful language, he channels all the best parts of the last 30 years of R&B, making something that sounds simultaneously fresh and familiar. It’s his breakout moment — and if Ology is any indication, he’s ready.
After spending his childhood in suburban Maryland, Gallant attended NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, a haven for curious creatives who create their own field of study for their college years. He studied music and business, but felt stifled creatively as he tried to write pop songs. Five years into his stay in NYC, claustrophobia set in, and feeling the metaphysical weight of the city’s people and ambition, he decamped to Los Angeles in 2013.
In LA he worked with rising producer Felix Snow (he’s worked with the likes of Sza and Nicole Scherzinger), who produced much of his Zebra EP, and excised much of his angst from the five years in NYC. Zebra is dark, swirling, and glitchy — opening track “Forfeit” is tagged in SoundCloud as “Xanax&B,” and the rest are labelled along similar lines.
After Zebra, Gallant hooked up with Sufjan Stevens, opening for Stevens’ October tour in support of Carrie & Lowell. Their tour made for some memorable collaborations, beyond even the meme-able cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” — Stevens was the first guest on Gallant’s new video series, “In The Room,” for which Gallant covered Stevens’ “Blue Bucket of Gold.” Good luck listening without getting goosebumps.
Zebra must have been cathartic, because on Ology, Gallant seems to be way more comfortable in his own skin. His voice comes out from behind the haze, flexing its palpable strength and range. Vocally, he channels the spirits of Prince, D’angelo, and Maxwell — at the high end of his register, there’s a golden falsetto that could slice diamonds. At his best, he evokes the neo-R&B of Dev Hynes and Miguel, but does so in a manner that’s not afraid of guitars. There’s a even a hint of Sadé on “Percogesic,” but also an industrial techno drum breakdown on the bridge. On Ology, Gallant worked with Stint, an LA-based producer from Vancouver who he found on SoundCloud. ZHU, with whom he’s touring this spring, and Adrian Yonge also share production credits on the record. There’s a mainstream-ready single featuring the trending Jhene Aiko, “Skipping Stones,” but if there’s a song that embodies Gallant’s sound and spirit, it’s “Bourbon.”
Lyrically, “Bourbon” seems to take a note from the colorful abstractionism of At the Drive-In/The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler’s, using extravagant imagery like “a headless horseman on quilted sand dunes,” and “withering down to the champagne quicksand.” But it’s the hook that’s been drilled into our head, at once capturing the violence of love and the visceral nature of its addictions: “Cause I loved in cold blood/ And got used to it/ Angels say trust the detox/ But I’m shakin’/ I need it like bourbon in my coffee cup.”
When Gallant performs live, the passion bottled up on record is no longer subtle; he emotes with the full force of his body. When we caught a late afternoon set in Austin, Texas for SXSW, we were taken aback by his energy on stage, hyping the crowd with his physical histrionics and powerful vocal range. After heading back home and settling in with Ology, maybe we shouldn’t have been. He’s arrived.