Jacob Collier’s Psalmic Harmonies

Olivia Bardo

Jacob Collier is something of a modern-day psalmist.

Collier began his musical career in 2012, sharing videos on YouTube that quickly amassed an audience enraptured by his imagination and otherworldly ability to deeply understand music. He grew up in a musical family and showed signs of musical genius from an early age, leading to formal training at the Royal Academy of Music. Known for composing and producing beyond conventional boundaries, partly by stretching chords to their limits and utilizing microtones, Collier’s musical stylings are difficult to define. Genres blend and bend into one another. His work is often groovy and jazzy, with smatterings of classical and gospel. Collier has often described his work as spiritual in nature, particularly the layered voices that hum throughout.

From his first YouTube uploads to his first full-length album, Collier has remained committed to exploring the collaborative and life-giving nature of music. His four-part album series, Djesse, is the truest expression of his commitment, including the recently released Djesse Vol. 4. In a 2023 interview with Billboard, Collier explained that “In many ways, Djesse Vol. 4 is an album that’s taken me 30 years to make. It is, to me, a celebration of humankind—the way that I see it and hear it, built with musicians from every corner of the world.”

As the culmination of his ambitious, six-year project, Djesse Vol. 4 is an expression of being both creative and created, in a way that's reminiscent of the biblical psalms. The album opens up with Collier at the edge of the earth, where he seems to be yearning for the presence of a divine being: “Bring me back to life, I feel that ocean of love / The waves come crashing' down / Let the constellation, let me take you to the sky inside my heart.”

Throughout Vol. 4, we often meet Collier in similar moments of contemplation. There’s an undeniable sense of feeling both immeasurably small, while being pulled toward something larger than oneself. We find echoes of this longing in Psalm 84, where even sparrows have found a dwelling place. Here, the psalmist is desperately searching for a haven with God: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Many of Collier’s songs on Vol. 4 feel like modern psalms. He expresses his fears, celebrations, and love in tones of supplication and adoration. “Let me be angry / Let me be patient / Let me be happy / Let me be ordinary,” he sings on “100,000 Voices.” On “Little Blue,” he declares,“Be my shelter / Be my cradle, be my womb / Be my boat, be my river / Be the stillness of the moon.” Such words recall God’s comforting and sheltering nature in Psalm 91: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

Collier has remained committed to exploring the collaborative and life-giving nature of music.

The music Collier makes is characteristically maximalist. The songs on Vol. 4 range from jazz to Latin pop to metal to gospel. He combines classical and choral styles before transitioning into shredding electric guitar and sitar riffs, flowing from one style headfirst into the next. Though the songs can sometimes feel discordant, Collier has a place in mind for each tune. You can trust him to lead you through stretched-out harmonies and genre-bending tunes into grand resolutions.

That is the masterwork of Collier’s artistry. One must step back and observe his work as a culmination of its many parts. Here, we find creative echoes of the divine. Ever the experimentalist, Collier reveals that even the rocks cry out in praise of their creator.

The album notably employs the voices of choirs. On his previous tours, Collier has served as choirmaster, leading audience members through complex harmonies. Out of nothing, he reveals the innate music within everyone. Similarly, many of the psalms were intended to be shared in community and celebration, rather than solitude.

Along with his spontaneous choirs, Collier includes musical greats like Kirk Franklin, Brandi Carlile, Stormzy, Tori Kelly, and Chris Martin on Vol. 4. It seems as though Collier follows the instruction of Psalm 100 and is making a joyful noise throughout the whole earth, until it is filled with harmony.

We are all our own uniquely created beings, sublime and sparkling, but we are also collectively part of the great creation. To my ears, Collier’s four-part exploration culminates in a multi-voice harmony in adoration of our Creator—each song their own kind of psalm.

Topics: Music