The dreamy possibility of making it in Los Angeles still hasn’t lost its luster, but for some, the city’s very present and unconscionable wealth disparity takes you out of the woozy haze of fame and into reality. This kind of truth reigns on Col3trane’s latest project BOOT, one that is heartfelt when the prevailing genre trends still celebrate the bacchanal and the disposability of parties, lovers, and, really, the self.
Last November, Col3trane – alias Cole Basta – dropped Tsarina all of a sudden, a tornado of musical creativity that scoured England’s R&B landscape. He was hailed as one of the genre’s next young stars and flown to Los Angeles for label meetings and studio sessions. The North Londoner burrowed into his craft, splitting time between familiar producers like J Moon in his hometown and new faces like Cadenza, Rogét Chahayed, DJDS, and Nicky Davey in L.A.
On his latest endeavor BOOT, Col3trane is airborne, looking around, taking everything in while he tries to process all the change going on in his life. “Sky high on a jet/ Blowing up while I pretend I’m calm,” he whispers. The 20-year-old is quickly proving himself to be among the most gifted singer-songwriters of his generation; he’s got the type of voice, charm, smarts, and ineffable humanity that’s always hoped for but never promised in someone his age.
The title of the project stands for ‘Breathing Out of Time’, a concept Col3trane finds disorienting, as if he’s fallen away from a universal rhythm that connects us all. On BOOT, he expands on this sentiment of feeling out of place, delving into his own anxieties as he processes fame and navigates self-discovery. The results are haunting, and you can feel the pressure Col3trane is under to make a way on his own.
His pain is prevalent, his torment a strong inspirational source that remains for the project’s duration. There’s a sense of isolation in these songs, as if Col3trane recorded them alone in the dark, with only his introspection pushing him toward something brighter. Col3trane mines that despair for self-therapy; his cathartic wails echo through the stillness, arriving in sharp bursts. On “Roses,” for example, he unveils hurt in the smoothest way possible, masking it behind a sultry R&B groove. “I’ve been operating solo, I don’t want to smell the roses,” he sings over a stuttering melody. Current pain is lived in and past pain is just one small recollection away.
Col3trane’s lyrics are dense and ambiguous, taking tonal cues from Frank Ocean while coming to grips with his own struggles. His words read like diary entries on paper and sound mysterious on record, unveiling pieces of his life without giving too much away. On “Britney,” the singer personifies life’s many mishaps into a character, describing his inability to let go of the negatives. Much like on Tsarina, where Col3trane’s lyrics were packed with references to Greek mythology, he extends this style onto this project, sourcing imagery from astrology and Egyptian iconography. “Was a Pisces holding an ankh,” he says, referring to the confidence and durability associated with zodiac sign as well as the hieroglyph believed to represent eternal life. “Now I got a sprain by the tat on my ankle.” Col3trane might appear to be doing well on the outside, but he’s still attached to his inner demons.
This introspection is clear throughout the record, as Col3trane sings through heavy breathing, seemingly haunted by the dichotomy between both his insecurities and capabilities. “Of course I left alone – I don’t need no company” he brags on “Chemicals,” followed by the desperate call for help “My mind is so lost I need to find my cool” on the following track. While Tsarina was an attempt at a chronicle of Basta’s various romantic struggles, BOOT is less limiting and reflective of a more mature artist with new concerns. The vocalist addresses the inevitability of having to navigate the world by himself while remembering the self-sufficiency that has gotten him this far, bouncing back and forth between confidence and fragility. Col3trane is proving to be intricate writer who pens fiercely introspective songs, all of which play like the innermost thoughts of a private man.
His voice rises to the top of the mix on BOOT, soaring over airy synth pads, taut drum patterns, and warm guitar chords. He positions the human voice as the center of his music, not as a burden to be sublimated into waves of reverb and distortion. Standout track “Chemicals” sees him alternately sing-speaking and scuffing up his tenor with the controlled cry of a choir leader. This instrumental toolkit might be standard for R&B or pop, but his singing tends to roam free above it. He’s also something of a perfectionist; the production on his record is so crisp that vocal ad-libs and slightly delayed notes in guitar solos sound less like mistakes than like deliberate glimpses of the human process behind the craftsmanship on display. It was precisely this ability, to gently weave his vocals in and out of the beat, harmonizing unexpectedly, that led to comparisons with Frank Ocean after the release of Tsarina. On BOOT, his versatile voice still soars on every song, but it now spans a surprising array of techniques as he pivots adeptly between old and contemporary styles, landing on something entirely his own.
On “Tyler,” darkness lurks beneath Col3trane’s sunny veneer, revealing itself by way of disjointed lyrics: “Breathing in a coffin/ In time for my post mortem.” The singer wraps his voice in woozy distortion and switches in the space of just a few lines from blunt lover man braggadocio (“I know that I will wake up/ And you’ll be there in the morning”) to admitting he needs guidance (“I don’t want your sympathy but I need your help”). Col3trane is fond of murky, immersive soundscapes and sharp pivots between longing and lucidity.
It’s often hard to piece together narratives across Col3trane’s compositions; his lyrics tend toward the dreamy and free-associative, like they’re orbiting the music’s themes instead of pinning them down. This can be disorienting for some listeners, but his words are often woven within layers of synthetic sound, forcing you to lean in a little closer to decipher the meaning. It leaves space for the listener to inhabit Col3trane’s songs, to fill their vacancies with personalized expectations and predispositions. It makes the music inviting and inclusive.
While BOOT is stuffed with one-of-a-kind details and characters, its overall scope is grand, as is Col3trane’s. His voice binds the songs together with a musty analog quality, and a couple of tracks seem to end mid-sentence, leaving you no choice but to keep going. And there’s a timeless philosophy involved here, one of hard-won acceptance and the acknowledgement that love and fame and loss will always draw legends to them. In its totality, BOOT is a slow burn that grows more infectious as it plays.
It feels as if Col3trane is pushing against the idea of an elevated profile with the 19-minutes of music that make up his major follow-up project. Instead of acting as a grand coronation, BOOT is a patient piece of work that finds Col3trane in no rush to capitalize on a moment, instead opting to showcase reflective yet relatable musings on nostalgia, uncertainty, and moving forward. At the same time, BOOT carries a strange urgency with it, as if these songs had to come out of him now. The result is unexpected but refreshing, with Col3trane comfortably inhabiting the role of an artist interested in staying true to himself.