Bewilderment (Pale Jay) – music review

Who is Pale Jay? The artist, one of Karma Chief Records’ latest signings, is something of an enigma, although we do know a few things about him: he’s trained as a jazz vocalist and pianist, calls southern California home, and always wears a red ski mask and white bucket hat that obscure his appearance. The air of mystery might be the first thing you notice about Pale Jay, but it quickly gives way to the appeal of his music itself. That’s what first pulled-in Colemine/Karma Chief founder Terry Cole, who was introduced to Jay’s work by Aaron Frazer (drummer and vocalist for Durand Jones and the Indications).

Pale Jay’s sound fits right in with the rest of the Colemine/Karma Chief roster, but at the same time manages to carve out its own unique niche. Described on the hype sticker as “dusty soul from outer space,” Jay’s style combines his smooth falsetto vocals (reminiscent of Aaron Frazer’s) with tracks that mix in elements of soul, gospel, and jazz with break beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on an underground hip-hop record. Jay even samples some work from label mates Okonski (a piano jazz trio that features members of the Indications including—you guessed it—Aaron Frazer on drums), which is featured prominently on the breezy “By The Lake”.

Lyrically Bewilderment touches on several themes, but the album seems mainly focused on making sense of feelings and relationships. Most of the songs, like “By The Lake” and “Don’t Forget That I Love You,” are deeply personal songs that speak directly to a significant other but are broad enough to be relatable to just about anyone. Jay has a fondness for unique metaphors and similes too, which comes out on tracks like “In Your Corner” (“I am the backpack on your back wearing heavy / But I also carry snacks / I’m gonna tell you to sit down and do your homework / Yes, but I’ll always have your back”) and “My Dirty Desire” (“Like a supple jungle cat I glide through the room”).

Despite the sometimes heavy lyrical themes, though, the album feels a little bit lightweight. At only eight tracks and clocking in under 25 minutes, Bewilderment seems more like a long EP than a true album. The short song lengths and tight track listing do help keep things focused, but one can’t help but wish there were a few more tracks on board. That said, Bewilderment is still a strong debut that sets a high bar for whatever Pale Jay has in store for us next.

Simon Workman
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