Disclaimer: Anything I say as part of my interpretations could possibly be partially to entirely wrong.
As I write this, I must admit I have known of Gallant, the RnB singer, for just about a month or so (note: I wrote this way earlier than I am posting this). But I haven’t fully fallen into obsession this fast since Jon Bellion. I legit spend a significant amount of time watching just about any Gallant interview or documentary I can find, and I memorize his lyrics and decode them at my leisure.
I am glad that, after watching some of those documentaries/interviews, I can say that Gallant is human. I had my doubts when I listened to his album Ology (the only body of work of his I have heard. He released an EP or something before these but I haven’t looked for it). I doubted he was human because he writes nearly exclusively in imagery and metaphor, and his trademark is a yellow sadface! I honestly started to fear that sadness and stone-facedness were his only emotions. (And yes, I will insist right now that the latter qualifies as an emotion. Don’t tell a lexivist what to do with words.) But in his interviews, I think I’ve seen him smile twice and laugh twice so I can sort of breathe now and let go of the fear that he’s going to kill himself any second.
I remember, many months ago, something or the other (I think it was Kanye West) triggered a social media rant from Andy Mineo, who made very valid points about the way the world, especially including Christians, don’t like to accept the spiritual status of someone who is searching, as “searching”. We like to limit ourselves to understandings of “Okay, they’re in. Or they’re out.” No in-between period. So what I love about Gallant’s Ology album is that the whole project feels like that in-between period, which so many people are scared to display, for fear of condemnation – presented marvelously in metaphor. And I love Gallant for it.
Ology means knowledge. Technically, science – and I choose to pronounce that as “shee-ence” as in omniscience and conscience. Ology seems to be an exploration of science – what “it” means. Where “it” is absolutely everything. I think it goes as far as the question of bare existence. And Gallant makes it clear that he and his mind are out of this world. A large percentage of Ology’s imagery is extra-terrestrial; that is, goes beyond earth, to the moon, other planets, the galaxy, the gods. The scope is as wide as he could help. And of course it only makes sense that in an exploration of science and meaning, spirituality will be a frequent stop – like a popular company that has gas stations planted every few kilometers.
My focus on what I assume to be his spiritual journey will focus on 3 songs that stood out to me. In chronological order as they appear on the album, they are: Bourbon (4), Bone + Tissue (5), and Chandra (15).
So we begin with Bourbon.
Imagine how shocked I was to find out Bourbon was an alcohol, as opposed to the supposedly innocent chocolate biscuits I know from Ghana. =(
Bourbon sounds to me like it’s by a speaker who struggles with his attachment to atheism/agnosticism/rejection of the faith. (Side note: if you try to cross-check my analyses using Genius.com, you will probably find that they correspond…because I annotated this song. And a little bit of Bone + Tissue. And I think all that’s on Chandra so far is mine as well.) It’s like an addiction to unbelief. And for addiction, he uses bourbon, a metaphor for the metaphor of alcoholism; addiction in all its glorious absurdity. “Bourbon in my coffee cup”? As in, you have alcohol for breakfast? Or perhaps, does it also double as a vessel that contains something it shouldn’t? But let’s backtrack to the beginning.
“I’m a headless horseman
On quilted sand dunes
With my neck wide open
I pray for refuge”
Aside the tone of vulnerability, I see a slight allusion to the horsemen of the apocalypse. Aside that also, there is an imagery paradox. “Sand dunes” are symbols of isolation in a desert; but they are lyrically painted here with beauty, so much as to be “quilted”. There’s a consistent attempt to paint something ordinarily bad as attractive.
The pre-chorus for me put things into perspective:
“Cause since I’ve been found, I’ve been living a life in cages
Withering down to the champagne quicksand
Wrestling doubt I’ve been dragging around for ages
I tried to let it drain, but my veins are hopeless”
I think this speaks to his relationship with a faith, and I assume without basis that it is Christianity. I associate being “found” to symbolically speak of his integration into a/the church. So why does it feel like a cage to him? Are there too many religious restrictions he can’t handle? Is he so uncomfortable that he feels like a spectacle? Like an animal behind bars? Again, the paradox of an enjoyable danger in “champagne quicksand”. Curiously, even his integration into faith couldn’t cure him of his doubt. Maybe it’s because he feels pretentious that he feels like he’s been caged.
The 2 lines in the chorus that get to me are:
“Angels say trust the detox
But I’m shaking, I need it like bourbon in my coffee cup”
Whichever “angels” he has encountered keep trying to detoxify him of perhaps his agnosticism – but he can’t let go. He’s like an alcoholic; an addict experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Why is there bourbon, rather than coffee in his coffee cup?
The album takes us from one wrestle directly to another. Bone + Tissue comes right after this, and I personally feel like the lyrics are so wishy-washy that it’s nearly impossible to understand exactly what he’s saying. But I’m fine with the idea of finding more questions in other people’s art than answers.
All the verses scream entirely of dissatisfaction. I actually recognize Gallant’s writing pattern from listening and turning over in my mind so much. He has a formula where both verses and sometimes bridge say the same thing with different imagery.
He wants “more than God in a courtroom”; is the concept of God as a judge of man not acceptable for some reason? And what’s up with all the pain and destruction imagery? “broken glass in my house shoes”; “rocks in a windshield”; “kerosene in a minefield” etc. Is faith painful? I don’t know what it was about it that essentially sets him off.
And as for the people who are apparently giving him all these things, and making him experience all this pain, they seem to be doing pretty illogical, self-deluding things to themselves as well, like “spending all your days making days feel shorter” – a comment on the belief in eternity, perhaps? – and “taking your time making time feel better” – which sounds like a similar thing but maybe this alludes more to the idea of convincing ourselves there is a purpose to the life/time we spend on earth, an opinion that Gallant in this song doesn’t seem to share.
But then it all goes back to apparent feelings of (Gallant’s) worthlessness and obvious skepticism. The entire chorus sounds like sarcastic snark with an undertone of desperation.
“Sell me something I can use to catapult my value
Treat me like the cardinal anointed in my vessels
And anytime I bite the hand that feeds
Won’t you lie through your teeth and
Tell me I’m a monument to more than bone and tissue”
I can’t understand how anyone would readily believe that their soul and spirit are lies, that there is nothing more to them than the physical. But maybe this is a way for Gallant to present our fallible humanness in a raw but exaggerated form. And again, the sarcastic emphasis on humanity and our flaws, somehow trying to prove we are also (connected to) divine beings.
“If I falter on my oaths, will it prove I’m more than skin and bone?”
I don’t think so. =(
But then, the possibility…maybe it isn’t to be entirely ruled out. Chandra. Chandra is the “maybe” song. It’s the closes thing you’re going to get to an “I believe” on the album. It’s also the last song.
When he opens with “Are the chemicals controlled?”, I’m hearing two things. One is a question of depression; the kind which can be clinically defined as chemical imbalances in the brain. The second is a question of whether there is a force behind the physical world of natural science/phenomena. AKA – is there a transcendental being controlling all this?
The computer science imagery kind of stumped me for a while, really.
“Are they written in my native tongue
Open-ended cosmic code”
So, if the universe is programmed, does it run on an open-source software, whose code is accessible and comprehensible to us? For example, if the Designer/Programmer is God (tell me you didn’t just start singing either Panda or Tiimmy Turner and I won’t believe you), who made the cosmic universe, has he truly given us the “code” to this creation of His in the Bible?
When he says he has “felt vibrations across a burgundy sea”, I can’t imagine what the sea could be, other than his own blood. An instinctual feeling from within, from everywhere. To have “bent my head on a mission I couldn’t lead” seems like an acknowledgement of one’s lack of complete autocracy. I think it begs the question of who is leading, then, if not oneself.
Then comes a string of more mystical, hopeful, possibly begrudging “maybe”s.
“Maybe there’s a moon behind these lines
Habitable and chosen
Maybe there’s a home behind these eyes
Waiting until my logic falters and I’m losing hope
The part about hope appearing when the senses and one’s own logic fail, is probably my favorite thing about the whole album. It echoes of something transcendental, past all the qualities of mankind, past the limits of our knowledge, our “Ology”.
As inconclusive a journey as this is, I don’t think an album of “searching” could have ended any better. Christopher Gallant, I am waiting with bated breath for your next album. =)
Also, I love you. Let’s be besties. ❤