There comes a time in one's life where everything that once seemed clear blurs out. That was the state of James Bay's psyche when he was coming off the tour for his last record. Under the dawn of loneliness and a deeply inflicted wound of self-doubt, he had written some songs to put his emotions into words in hopes of figuring them out. As he though he was done with a record, the pandemic came along and changed the world and his daily life as he knew it.
The forced solitude that we all shared during the pandemic could have anyone spiraling deeper into depression but as Bay kept on writing, he realized that it was not the case for him. Over the course of the year, he had found the hope that he was trying to regain for such a long time. With each song written, new ways of seeing blossomed. The newly found optimism shines through the tracks like One Life and Nowhere Left To Go. They feel like the first rays of sun in spring.
The shift of mentality is apparent in Leap. His previous record, Electric Light portrayed the singer/songwriter in an Alex Turner looking light yet it didn't go beyond pastiche. He ditched his long hair for copious amount of hair gel and took the sparkliest looking clothes out of his closet. Electric Light provided us some catchy pop tunes yet it's not a representative album of who he is as an artist. It seems self-important and the humanness feels like it has been been put aside in sake of creating an ingenuine, enfant terrible façade. The vulnerability that makes his music so potent was made nearly invisible. I'm specifically using the word nearly, as we got glimpses of his true expression form in some songs like Us or Slide. The incoherence between this newly found, non-fitting alter ego and his previous work could be the reason why Bay felt so lonely coming off from his last tour.
With Leap, he picks up his fedora and grows out his hair once again, affirming that where he started was where he felt the most comfortable in the first place. That doesn't mean that he hasn't reinvented himself in the bravest ways. Leap takes risks, as the title suggests. Chaos and the Calm might feel more "James Bay" compared to Electric Light yet Leap portrays him in his full maturity, in his final form. It's his most vigorous work to date. He seems comfortable in his own skin and it's a delight to witness. It's unsurprising to observe this change of humour as he had written the most inspiring, heartfelt songs he'd written so far for this record. That amount of cathartic expression would leave anyone feeling more at peace with themselves.
On Leap, James goes full out and explores hope in its full range. What's good being equally sad, the line between hope and fear being blurry... When I asked him if it was difficult to portray that duality through his lyrics he explained:
"I feel like people know me for sad songs and I was intentionally trying to push the boundary to make the songs more inspiring. I knew that I wanted to make music that people could use to stay hopeful. I think I walked the tight rope okay. Of course it was not easy as they never are. The songs mean different things to me the longer they have been out. It's interesting how that goes. I hope I don't realize that they have all been intensely sad, I wasn't trying to do that.
He did walk the tight rope okay indeed. It's difficult to wear your heart on your sleeve and pour your doubts and fears of years into a record. Ironically, he says that he didn't feel being vulnerable as scary as he thought it would be. Vulnerability was a much needed companion for him, after having spent years tackling with different problems of loneliness and alienation it seems. The sense of connection and disconnect, fear and trust, love and have are the things that make his music so expansive in their full duality. With Leap, James explores each emotion without assigning any judgement to them. Through this record, James jumps high and reaches his truest form, and the net appears.