Jacob Collier - Djesse (Vol. 3)
Aug 14, 2020 (updated Aug 15, 2020)
Jacob Collier is a polarising figure. Some praise him as a creative visionary and the second coming of Mozart, while others consider him an obnoxious presence who treats music like a massive wank to show to the world how good he is at harmony. He is, in reality, neither of these - he is simply an obviously talented young writer who is still working out how to turn his meticulous knowledge into enjoyable music. And when I say obviously talented, I mean that it’s simply idiotic to pretend otherwise. He creates extremely complex and detailed harmonic progressions with ease, and can play a multitude of instruments with a greater grasp of them than many will ever have with one.

His talent has been both a blessing and a curse, as it has resulted in many songs that are far easier to admire than to enjoy. Take his song “With The Love in My Heart” (from “Djesse Vol. 1”) which covers many fascinating musical ideas, but subdivides itself into so many different sections that it feels like it would have worked far better had their features been expanded into three or four individual tracks. But “Djesse Vol. 2” boasted some genuinely beautiful songs, namely the lullaby-like “Make Me Cry” and “Time to Rest Your Weary Head”, whose softness tempers Collier’s harmonic breadth, resulting in a rich and rewarding experience.

Yet Collier is becoming an increasingly mainstream presence: he has worked with Coldplay on their latest album “Everyday Life” and Daniel Caesar on his sophomore record “CASE STUDY 01”, both of these last year. This trend has continued with the third installment of Collier’s Djesse series, which boasts collaborations with T-Pain, Ty Dolla $ign, Daniel Caesar, Kimbra, and many more (not to mention several late-night TV performances with some of these stars). This is his mainstream album.

The singles have pointed to a project that would be the perfect balance between his harmonic quirks and mass appeal: “All I Need” is a rare beast of a pop song, simultaneously harmonically satisfying but also insanely catchy and euphoric; “Running Out of Love” is similarly infectious while retaining a rhythmic complexity and a laid-back vibe; “Time Alone With You” is chill but unrestrained, using a minimalist framework to maximum effect; “He Won’t Hold You” is subdued and beautiful with some of the most chilling chord progressions I’ve heard in a while; and “In My Bones” cranks up the fun and the energy to 11, easily the most manic of all of the singles. But it would be interesting to see if Collier would succeed in tying all of these in a cohesive, or at least coherent manner.

Surprisingly, the sequencing of this album is quite smooth! The album initially feels like a party and the afterparty, both accomplished very well in my opinion. After a slightly pointless intro “CLARITY” we get a dubstep-ish throwback to the early 2010s that you could easily envision being played at a late-night outdoor gathering with fireworks, even if the vocal performances are pretty badly treated. We then get the highly danceable “In My Bones” that is more organically instrumented, but no less effective in creating a sense of vibrancy. “Time Alone With You” might at first feel like a breather, but it progresses into something highly detailed yet not overpowering, followed by the main event “All I Need”, which is quite simply one of the best singles of the year, well structured and absolutely exhilarating.

We don’t get anything this energetic for the rest of the album, but it’s no less rewarding. Collier successfully explores psychedelic electronic on the more interlude-like but still fulfilling and rhythmically fascinating “Butterflies” and “”Light It Up On Me”, while “Sleeping On My Dreams” is a laid-back bop with a refreshingly carefree vocal performance on the verses, despite a slightly clunky chorus, while “Running Out Of Love” recalls the Daniel Caesar collaboration, but still holds up well on its own as another slow head-bopper. “He Won’t Hold You” is a perfect pre-closer, with its gorgeous vocal harmonies and tranquil arrangements, making “To Sleep” feel more like a postlude, which I find is a nice way to end this album, a bit like, well, going to sleep.

Ultimately, while it has a few minor missteps and lacks much (if any) lyrical interest, “Djesse Vol. 3” finds Collier almost at the peak of his powers, demonstrating that he is capable of dipping his toes in all sorts of different genres while also curating a cohesive and fulfilling listening experience. It contains some of his best material to date, and shows him going further on his exciting career trajectory that I hope will continue on “Djesse Vol. 4”.
Aug 14, 2020
Nice Review, I've been wanting an album from Jacob like this for so long
Aug 14, 2020
@henrycoke Thanks! It's really nice to see a style progression like this.
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