The upper register of Gallant’s voice is a veritable superpower. It’s breathtaking, powerful, piercing, and any number of other adjectives that, I assure you, are less hyperbolic than they sound. Whereas a vast majority of artists are forced to optimize their music around their vocal limitations, Gallant has the opposite problem. Because his vocal range is boundless, he must optimize in reverse. On Sweet Insomnia, the 27-year-old Maryland-native does precisely this. He constructs a body of work tailored entirely around his greatest strength: his voice.
The follow-up to his 2016 debut album, Ology, Sweet Insomnia improves upon his first outing in several ways. Chiefly, the project evidences growth by layering its musicality with a dose of subtlety, which Ology sorely lacked. Though stunning, the debut was cranked up to 11 from start to finish, culminating in a record that was too draining to listen to in one sitting.
Conversely, Sweet Insomnia features a broader array of sounds for Gallant to flex his talents. This creative decision affords him the flexibility to whip out his powerful falsetto far more sparingly and to greater effect. Refreshing vocal restraint serves Gallant well over lush production borrowing influence from new jack swing (“410 [Intro]”), early 2000s-Usher (“Sleep On It”), spaghetti western (“Sweet Insomnia”), Afrobeats (“Compromise”), and a variety of other reference points. When 6LACK and Sabrina Claudio pop up on the latter two songs, Gallant’s artistic growth really begins to show. Both features feel like a pleasant change of pace, as opposed to an opportunity to come up for air.
Thematically, Sweet Insomnia is a fitting name for an album that spends most of its runtime painting romance as an exercise that is simultaneously beautiful and torturous. On “Sharpest Edges,” Gallant wastes no time diving into this dichotomy, crooning atop the Janelle Monáe-inspired production: “They said a little bit of you was all I needed / but they didn’t tell me that one step closer to you is a step closer to my grave.”
To his credit, Gallant convincingly sells lyrics with his emotive delivery. Sadly, the album’s overarching concept grows thin over the course of its 13 tracks. Gallant often misses the mark lyrically, oversimplifying complex ideas into repetitive refrains (“Hurt”). More concerningly, he takes simple ideas and channels them into nonsensical metaphors (“Hips”). The latter of these two songs is, by far, the album’s worst, detailing a confusing story about a person who can’t stop thinking about sex while they flee the scene of a potentially fatal hit and run with their partner.
Occasionally, Gallant can mine the fertile ground between these two poles, as he does on the songs “Paper Tulips” and “Sleep On It,” but not nearly enough.
Fortunately, Sweet Insomnia doesn’t live and die on the strengths of its conceptual through-line. The only real connective tissue uniting Sweet Insomnia’s 13 songs is Gallant himself. For most artists, this would spell a death sentence. Thankfully, Gallant has the rare requisite talent to pull off such a feat.
Standout Track: “Céline”
Best Bar: “You try so hard to be understanding, but you don’t stick the landing”
Favorite Moment: The gorgeous beat and key change during the outro of “Paper Tulips”