236: Jacob Collier, ‘Hideaway’

Posted by on May 14, 2017 in A Cappella, Jazz, Rock, Song Of the week |


jacobcgreg_gormanThere’s this kid from London, Jacob Collier. He’s 22.

Since achieving majority, he’s been releasing videos he’s produced and recorded all by himself. In his room in his parents’ home. Alone, as it were.

At least that’s his cover story. I don’t believe a word of it. I’ve been watching his videos, and I’m convinced he’s an alien. He displays musical and visual abilities way beyond the ken of Homo sapiens from Planet Earth. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out to be the front man for some nefarious intergalactic conspiracy to invade our minds.

Skeptical? Watch ‘Hideaway’, the first video for his debut album “In My Room”, due July 1.

See what I mean? The superhuman, multi-octave, mind-bogglingly rich vocals? His prowess on every instrument you’ve heard of and a few he seems to have invented (a miniature acoustic bass)?  The outlandishly inventive visuals?

The humans I’ve encountered, even the musically gifted ones, can’t conceive of stuff like that, let alone execute it. By themselves. At the age of 22. Alone in their room in their parents’ house.

I remember, for example, hearing The Beatles’ ‘Rain’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ for the first time. I remember the quantum shock in my brain experienced witnessing the leap of imagination those recordings presented:
This is something new.
This is a new world of aural and conceptual possibilities.
Jacob Collier brings to mind that degree of innovation.



One of his favorite formats has been multitracked videos of jazz and pop standards, driven by (by his own account) Brian Wilson-inspired vocals, often a cappella but occasionally garnished with a knockout lead instrument or five. I wanna tell you, this is seriously impressive stuff.

But he’s also been venturing out into the big world, starting at the top – here he is guesting with the hottest, coolest band in the world today, Snarky Puppy:

QuarterMaster’, a live performance in which he solos on the melodica. Seriously.

Don’t You Know’, from Snarky Puppy’s new DVD/CD “Family Dinner – Volume Two” in which he plays piano and sings multi-tracked, live!!, using a device he invented with a team at MIT, the ‘harmoniser’ – a thingie that enables him to sing in chords that he’s playing on a keyboard. Huh? Did we mention that he’s 22?

L2R: Jacob, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea

L2R: Jacob, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea

But he’s also been starting to appear live, using another home-made invention in collaboration with the MIT guys, a  one-man, multi-instrumental, multi-visual tool that allows him to simulate on stage the multi-track vocals/videos.

This is the kind of impression he’s been making on people:

“Talent oozing out of every pore”— Jamie Cullum
“Fucking unbelievable” — David Crosby
“The most talented kid on Earth today” — K.D. Lang
“Magnificent!” — Chick Corea
“Blown away” — Steve Vai
“I have never in my life seen a talent like this… Beyond category. One of my favourite young artists on the planet – absolutely mind-blowing” — Quincy Jones
“Wow!! Jacob, your stuff is amazing” — Herbie Hancock
“Staggering and unique… Jazz’s new messiah” — The Guardian

Conquering the world

Conquering the world

I don’t know how far he’ll go, this alien whippersnapper.

His guiding light is Brian Wilson. His new album is named after the Beach Boys’ song, ‘In My Room’. Here’s Jacob’s ruminative piano treatment of the Brian song. (For comparison, check out Paul Simon’s solo treatment of ‘Surfer Girl’).

Gary Usher, co-writer of the lyrics with Brian: “‘In My Room’ found us taking our craft a little more seriously. I played bass and Brian was on organ. The song was written in an hour… Brian’s melody all the way. The sensitivity… the concept meant a lot to him. When we finished, it was late, after our midnight curfew. In fact, Murry [the Wilson brothers’ father] came in a couple of times and wanted me to leave. Anyway, we got Audree [the Wilson brothers’ mother], who was putting her hair up before bed, and we played it for her. She said, ‘That’s the most beautiful song you’ve ever written.'”


Brian at 22

Brian: “I had a room, and I thought of it as my kingdom. And I wrote that song, very definitely, that you’re not afraid when you’re in your room. It’s absolutely true.”
Jacob echoes not only Brian’s harmonic and orchestrational genius. He also speaks of ‘his room’ as his natural environment.

One of the innumerable talents of Squire Jacob that I find profoundly unsettling is his self-assurance. He’s out there doing mind-bogglingly new and exciting stuff with folks like Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock and Jamie Cullum, and he behaves with aplomb and confidence as if  as if he’s been selling tens of thousands of copies of this stuff for 10 years.

Let’s step for a moment into the form/content dichotomy.

Jacob at 22

Jacob at 22

In purely musical terms, at 22 Jacob is way beyond Brian. He’s not churning out the original surfing/hot rod hits that Brian was at that age; but he is going to town harmonically in a way Brian would only begin to attempt several years and several albums later in “Beach Boys Today!” But as an innovator of sound, technique, tools? Jacob is standing on Brian’s shoulders. The Wilson brothers had a midnight curfew, and the personal computer was 30 years away. I don’t know if Brian even had a reel-to-reel machine when he wrote ‘In My Room’. Jacob really does create a new world every three or four days (that’s how long it takes him to make a multitracked ‘cube’ vocal video).

I see Jacob potentially playing in a league with Brian Wilson, even John and Paul, some day. Why maybe? At the same time that they were creating new worlds of options, they were creating indelible, lasting music. Jacob’s not doing that yet. My sense is that he’s still rather overwhelmed by the tools and techniques he’s inventing as he goes along.

‘Hideaway’ is a big step forward. It’s an original song, although I admit that I thought at first it was penned by that prolific songwriter Trad, sort of like James Taylor’s ‘That Lonesome Road’. (I don’t think I was thinking of Bing Crosby’s 1933 ‘In My Hideaway’.) After you’ve amazed your brain a few times watching the video of ‘Hideaway’, try listening to it without the carnival of lights and images and personae and invention.

The song. It’s almost as good as the video.

imageBrian Wilson’s genius goes beyond those harmonies and that orchestration. Both serve to celebrate the core, the song. As brilliant as is the whole of each of the worlds contained on the Beach Boys’ finest songs, it’s all finally in service of the song, even “Pet Sounds”, even ‘Good Vibrations’.

As a musician, Jacob Collier is still a kid, albeit a prodigiously gifted one. He’s just beginning to venture outside his room, almost literally. If he has the focus, the fiber, the soul, to concentrate on core values – melody, lyric, song structure – Jacob Collier could well be one of the major musical voices of his generation.

Here’s a fine video of Jacob explaining how and why you should consider reaching into your pocket and supporting him. Know what? I did. It makes me a patron of the arts, to kick in a little dough for a kid I have so much respect and hopes for. Think about joining me in supporting him.

If you liked this post, you may like enjoy these previous Songs of The Week:

230: The Beach Boys, ‘Here Today’ (“Pet Sounds” Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 14)

118: Brian Wilson, ‘Surf’s Up’ (“SMiLE”)

004: The Beach Boys, ‘Kiss Me Baby’

158: Paul Simon, ‘Surfer Girl’

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David Rubin
Apr 22, 2016 at 4:19 pm

I, for one, give warm greetings to our new alien overlord.

Feb 23, 2017 at 8:47 pm

Though I agree with what you said about his musical abilities, I have to disagree with the visuals.
First, the band that invented this lind of visual called “Video song” where you see each instrument played in the screen is named Pomplamoose. Pomplamoose were the first indie band to get a huge break through on YT, get 500K views for their cover of “Single ladies” from Beyoncé, back in 2008z
To give you an idea : that was the second mos viewed video on YT at the time, after Kanye West said at te Grammys that Beyoncé’s hit had the best videoclip. The band was totally unknown before that episode.

The only visual that really impressed me feom Jabob, are the videoclip for “Saviour”, and there is – despite the brilliant concept – a whole team behind it. I’m more visually impressed by what Jack Conte and Nathaly Dawn from Pomplamoose can put together being only a duo, and doing everything themselves, accept for the eventual camera (they even do good acting in their clips).
Jacob was definitely heavily influences by Pomplamoose in terms of visuals.

In term of sounds, influences you can hear : Take 6, Snarky Puppy, Stevie Wonder, Prince (heavy influence on his first album definitely), gospel choirs for harmonies, Beach boys for harmonies too.
He’s not so alien. Stevie Wonder have and Prince had this lind of talent.

Of course he gonna be a giant.
But some videos seems to simply shows how insane his range is, and is cocal EQ’ing skills – cause no one have a bass like that naturally.
He’s not always killer. His performance with the Metropole Orkest was a fiasco, due to the harmonizer getting TOTALLY lost in the mix – and the technology was probably too mind-blown for the soundguy, but, Jacob should had though about t not being a good idea for LIVE TV.

He is still young and sometimes that shows.
Globally sounds much more mature on his albums than most of his videos, IMHO. Also check out his performance on Jazz FM, a delight.
Just piano and voice : his best performance, again IMHO.
He need to streamline just a bit and he will be a giant.
2 grammys well deserved!

Feb 23, 2017 at 10:17 pm

I very much agree with you that Jacob needs to settle down and focus. I said that in the posting, I think. Which doesn’t belie his 22-year old brilliance.
I’m a big fan of Pomplamoose. I’m even a proud Patreon patron of Nataly Dawn. I think the home-studio split screen showing the various overdubs was going on for a while before Pomplamoose started doing it, but I agree that they do really, really neat stuff.
The a cappella world I’m so involved in were I think forerunners in this technique. Check out people like James Rose, Accent, Sam Robson, not to mention Pentatonix et al.

May 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Another valuable SOTW review. Yes, Jacob the Wunderkind. He’s indeed fucking unbelievable in his mastery of so many instruments and styles and his voice. However he still needs to impress me as much with his songwriting. Which might come with his settling down and focusing, so let’s look forward to that.
And I always appreciate artist who feel so comfortable with the technology they use and sometimes co-invent. Although we have to note the multi-voice harmonizer isn’t that new. After all, there’s Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” from 2005, an a cappella song she created (and played live on stage) using TC Helicon equipment that was certainly cutting-edge at that time, but readily available on the market.
So I’m looking forward to JC’s collaborations and creations. Maybe some super group that’s waiting to be founded? And thanks for your review, Jeff! I’ll need to give Brian Wilson a spin now …



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