Theophilus London's sophomore album is the good 'Vibes,' both on the surface and when you dig a little deeper.
Who is Theophilus London, anyways?
The Brooklyn-based, Trinidad-born 27-year old isn't really an MC, but he doesn't really sing all the time either. He cares about The Smiths more than he cares about Gang Starr and for some reason all of this attracts the likes of Kanye West to take on the roll of executive producer on his newest album Vibes.
He's released a few mixtapes and a debut album, Timez Are Weird These Days, that generally received lukewarm reviews. Now he's back, three years later, with another effort.
The title of the album came from being "real vibey" during the recording sessions, which were held in a house in the California desert. The beats sound like the soundtrack for a sun-drenched pool party as much as they sound like psychedelic pop. If you haven't figured Theophilus out just yet, he's going to keep you guessing on this one. In his own words words, Vibes is "real Palm Springs, smoke a joint, hit some mushrooms, go to Joshua Tree, bathe in some motherfuckin' volcano water... shit like that."
The five minute opener "Water Me" sets the stage for a twelve-track work of art that is a product of that sentiment. It's a lush palet cleanser that sounds like it would fit perfectly on an Ultra Music Festival side stage. London sings "water me, I will grow," which holds true to his development as an artist. In a world where Daft Punk can clean up at the Grammys for bringing vintage disco sounds back to the mainstream, it's not totally surprising move that an artist like London would flirt with '80s new wave sounds more than hip-hop on his 2014 album.
If “Water Me” is meant for daytime pool parties, than “Neu Law” is meant for those other-worldly sunsets at Joshua Tree, potentially exaggerated by that fungi London was talking about in the quote above. The '80s guitar, new wave tempo and vocal effects make for a vintage feel. However, the album isn’t purely for the listener of electronic music and indie; there’s some hip-hop on here too.
Obviously the “Can’t Stop” track is going to be the subject of much attention. It’s a double-edged sword to have Kanye West on your album, because while it helps to bring in some attention, it can also take focus off the rest of the album. Case in point: the Kanye feature has about 7x more plays than the next most-played track from the album’s Soundcloud stream.
Kanye crushes the opening verse though, and the soulful beat marks a return to the G.O.O.D. Friday/Dark Twisted Fantasy era of his output.
“Everything she was doin' was cool, but it ain't Ralph though
Might have gave me head in the pool, that ain't your mouth though
Might have caught you clappin' every Sunday at church
You still ratchet cause they play your favorite song and you twerk
Designer purse on your arm, 'bout the size of a duffle bag
And them brand new titties cost a couple racks
Feelin' on a girl's ass with a troubled past
Chainsmokin' every day, at least a couple packs
You know I always hit you deeper than a baritone
Bone you with my jewelry on, that's a herringbone
Hotter than Arizon', fresher than aerosol
These condom rappin' ass niggas wasn't ever raw
It's aiight but it ain't Ralph though
And unless your money talkin' keep your mouth closed
We smokin' indo outdoor, in Palo Alto
If this party ain't got hoes my intro's my outro”
“Do Girls” is another strong hip-hop attempt. London’s rare braggadocio flow has him eating dinner at renowned museums, getting trippy in the cab and most importantly, coaxing females of the lesbian persuasion in to spending a night with a Brooklynite.
“I was with my muse, Arizona
Sippin' on Arizona iced teas, homie
We havin' dinner at the MOMA
Oh this young pretty fly thing starin' at me
She kissin' girls cause she wanna
Deep down in her soul, man she fishin' for D
She send emojis to my phone
Now we in the black cab, turnt and gettin' trippy
I like all of her friends, they're some nice girls
She a runway tall model, pretty white girl
I never discriminate, just dated three black girls
That's my private life so you don't know that, girl”
“Smoke Dancehall” acts as a bridge between the hip-hop styles of those two songs and the indie-minded tracks of the rest of the LP. Kanye West notoriously used dancehall samples throughout Yeezus and has been on that kick for a couple years now. London thrives in the style, and while it isn’t as catchy as Wayne Wonder’s “No Letting Go” it is a worthy component of the album.
Other than “Do Girls,” “Can’t Stop,” and moments of “Smoke Dancehall,” though, the album is strongly rooted in electronically driver, 80s inspired, indie R&B. “Heartbreaker” wouldn’t feel out of place in a Disclosure DJ set, with it’s bass-driven dance beat. “Tribe” is another track for the club world.
Produced by Brodinsky, the French DJ/producer who has found himself knee deep in the hip-hop world after producing bits on Kanye West’s Yeezus, “Tribe” is one of the essential cuts off the album. London is rhyming over the upbeat tempo without it sounding forced or out of place, which is not the easiest thing to do. On top of that, the track taps out at two and a half minutes, wasting no time to get the point across.
A moment of clarity comes in the “Smoke” interlude, featuring Soko. A tasteful interlude is a surefire way to distinguish your album and the “vibe” that comes with it (no pun intended). Ridding yourself of the verse/chorus mentality to allow a beat to work as it’s own piece of art is remarkable in this case, as London and company deliver an interlude that would lead '90s-era Outkast proud.
While most of the album is a strong addition to Theophilus' charming career, there are also cuts that could have been left off the album, or at least could have used a little work. "Take and Look" has a dope beat, but I'm not sure what the vocal delivery is about. "Get Me Right" is rightfully ambitious on an album that has a varied, experimental sound, but it just isn't executed as well as some of the others. And by the time "Need Somebody" hits, you're likely over the triumphant '80s sound that you've had your fill on throughout the rest of the LP.
From the opening “Water Me” to the Prince-sounds of “Figure It Out” featuring Devonte Hynes, this is mostly a vintage sounding album. The hip-hop cuts can do something to appease the fans of that genre, but for the most part this LP will probably reside most with fans of non-hip-hop music.