Despite being active for near enough a decade, prolific producer GRAY had never offered much in the way of his own solo material. Sure there was the occasional single, but in terms of anything more substantial, the AOMG mainstay had only released one EP.
That is until now, with the release of his first full-length album, titled grayground., an 11-track offering that could have been the ideal vehicle to firmly build on a string of promising one-off efforts over the last couple of years. As it turns out, it doesn’t fully materialize as such, but when it does succeed, it does so with a marked proficiency.
“Show Window” kickstarts proceedings, a track that was teased all the way back in 2019 during AOMG’s SignHere promotions. It’s generally pleasant, shuffling along with repeating percussion, flashes of brass and undercurrents of bass, whilst pH-1’s feature offers a fairly affable dose of energy, even if it does feel quite out of place in comparison to GRAY’s vocals in the mix. Overall though it’s a fairly engaging start to the album, building a moderate level of intrigue for what’s to come.
“Selfish” does build on what comes before it, with light, colourful synths and rhythm guitars wrapped around playful rhythms and laidback vocals. Woo’s appearance is a particular highlight, adding an engaging layer to a generally catchy, pop-tinged offering. It allows for the title track, “Make Love,” to feel like a natural progression too, with this effort adding a more animated groove to the album, livening up the soundscapes with plucked guitar melodies and much more vigor. It’s nothing overtly original, but thanks to another smart collaboration, this time with Zion.T, GRAY keeps things fresh and appealing.
However, the EDM cut “Rise” does signify a drop in quality, the harshly autotuned vocals in the verses coming across as jarring as opposed to sleek, and the mid-tempo chorus drop largely dull and paint by numbers. DeVita does offer some relief with her honeyed vocals, but on the whole, this is an effort which fails to pack any sort of palpable replay value.
“I Don’t Love You” swiftly gets things back on track, though. It may be a pretty generic hip-hop-cum-pop number, both lyrically and sonically, but GRAY and Coogie’s smoothened vocals work extremely well together in and around the plucky electric guitars and simplistic melodies, in turn helping to carve out a pleasing song to listen to, and one which does manage to at least have some semblance of emotion to it.
As the second half of the record begins, “Party For The Night” delivers one of the album’s highlights, syringed with spirit and laced with buoyant synths, noticeably big percussion, and plenty of vocal quality. The harmonizing between LeeHi and GRAY in the chorus is a real stand-out, while Loco’s hyper-charged energy in his verse allows for the listener to really get enamored with the sound. It’s one of the only outwardly memorable tracks on the LP, and it’s a shame that this type of high-octane formula wasn’t favoured more often.
“Close 2 U” continues the forward momentum, its staccato bass and imminent vocals in the intro an interesting buildup to an impeccably groovy, undeniably snappy number that bounces along with finesse. GRAY’s rather unrefined vocals are actually endearing here, and punchnello’s confident feature adds a noticeable punctuation mark on a song that stands out as one of the more appealing cuts.
Elsewhere “Ready To Love,” an R&B-tinged track with more superfluous elements than genuine quality, feels like an overboard attempt to show off GRAY’s production chops, whilst the ballad-like “Eternal Sunshine” slows the pace down to a noticeably dull degree, with its climax, and subsequent jazzy saxophone solo, perhaps the only saving grace. “Baby Don’t Cry” is solid enough though, serving up plenty of positivity amongst melodious guitar riffs, shuffling percussion, and a brash chorus which delivers the message of keeping one’s head up with a real conviction.
And, whilst curtain closer “U” provides a neat bow on proceedings with its heartfelt lyrics and tight structure, it does also highlight an issue with the album as a whole. Despite clocking in at eleven tracks long, this is the only entirely solo effort on the record. Hearing more of GRAY and GRAY alone could’ve been a smart move, and also removed the need to accommodate so many different artists on the record. It wasn’t necessarily a bad move to stack up collaborators, but at the same time, even just a couple more unaided offerings may have allowed for GRAY to truly step into his own in the solo arena.
Ultimately, though, grayground. is a decent, yet somewhat inconsistent full-length debut which never properly finds its feet. Helped by some talented friends and contemporaries, some of the cracks are appealingly papered over, as are the occasional lapses in confidence from a producer who is genuinely very good at what he does.