Review Summary: It flows free.
It almost feels like an obligation to introduce Jacob Collier in a particular way. The 22-year-old jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist, originally from London, shot to fame as a music-making teenager on YouTube, gaining recognition from figures such as Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock. Declarations of “prodigy!” about Collier are not uncommon, and not unwarranted either. I imagine his music will hold particular appeal for aficionados of jazz and musical composition, who will likely be able to pick up on far more of the technical details.
It is clear that Collier possesses much raw talent. He sings with a smooth, soulful baritone (or is it bass?) that happens to belie his slight frame and youthful age. On In My Room, he manipulates seemingly countless layers of vocal harmonies and instrumentation, each intricately arranged and wrought into place. Ideas stack on top of ideas, multitudes of melodies entwine, the twists and turns and modulations are all carefully calculated and backed up by enigmatic music theory. All of this makes for a rather busy affair, one upon which I shall bestow the word “cerebral” to paint it in a more positive light. The production of In My Room contains the homemade charm of a record lovingly pieced together by one man over countless hours...in his room.
This complexity doesn’t quite translate into the lyrical content of In My Room. Most of it is standard fare concerning the simple joys (and sadnesses) of love and life. Then again, everything else about this album will have sidelined the lyrics anyway; mere words pale in comparison to the structural marvels of “super-ultra-hyper-mega-meta lydian”-infused songs.
Collier invokes two predominant moods: one distinguished by the groovy and energetic nature of tracks such as “Saviour” and “Hajanga”, the other characterised by the more pensive and pared down (“In the Real Early Morning”, “Hideaway”). For all the enthusiasm and boundless exploration of Collier’s experimental side, it is somewhat held back by occasional meandering and the feeling that songs have been overstuffed. “Don’t You Know” loiters around long enough to be charged with a criminal offence, ending with a cacophony of chimes, percussion, and God-knows-what; “Woke Up Today” commits the same mistake, but on a lesser level. The fun and funky “Saviour” could have been even more impactful if it had been condensed a bit more; nevertheless, it is a wonderful demonstration of Collier’s ability to make an elaborate track that is still fit for the dance hall.
It may be somewhat paradoxical to say that Collier’s songwriting is strongest at its simplest, but the contemplative “In the Real Early Morning”, featuring little more than Collier’s piano accompaniment and a single vocal line, is a testament to that statement. Stripped bare of the usual layers, Collier’s tender crooning shines through whilst his fingers gently sweep over the keys. The slow, swaying “Hideaway” also stands out by letting its warmth emanate naturally through the air.
Promise and potential will be readily attributed to Collier, who is evidently an inventive craftsman. Now, he needs only refine his skills to create something truly great.