(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, March 18, 2011

CD review - Theophilus London, Lovers Holiday (2011)

Theophilus London's game seems to be more about style and attitude than the music itself. Of course, that's a fine strategy when you're aiming for pop stardom. London first generated interest with his underground mixtapes. Now, with his finger on the pop pulse, his latest EP, Lovers Holiday is the lead up to an eventual full length release this spring. The EP's 5 songs are all tied to the topic of love, which fits the Feb 14 release date.

Lovers Holiday is a demo style EP, intended to give a sense of London's range. The songs are primarily pop, but each one varies the flavor. London's default vocal approach is a lightly melodic rap technique that owes a bit to Kid Cudi. No single track jumps out as amazing, but they're all fairly interesting.

The EP leads off with Why Even Try, featuring Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara. Her part doesn't give her much room to assert her personality, though. The music is a sparse, dance club funk, reduced to to a beat a simple bass line, and chiming synth accents. The chorus fills out the sound a little more. "If you think you're special, you're probably not." The irony is that Theophilus London's whole existence is a refutation of this song's defeatist message. Despite the lyrical resignation, the song sounds catchy and upbeat.

The music slides smoothly into Strange Love, whose strong pop vibe channels Prince, minus The Artist's squealing vocals. London's slightly out of breath delivery provides a forced edge.

Girls, Girls $ has a Kid Cudi feel. The samples and fills are heavily layered, with plenty of mildly glitched parts. This serves as the sex track for the EP. The music feels like more a DJ mix than a basic recorded groove. London lays down a decent flow, but he rushes his lines to add excitement. This contrasts strongly with the more restrained Wine and Chocolate, which follows. That's recalls Prince, too, but the style is a melange of R&B, pop funk, and synth pop. The electronic touches make this my favorite track on Lovers Holiday.

The album wraps up with Flying Overseas, which contrasts a rap verse and an R&B, soulful chorus. The stripped down, moody, slowed groove sounds a little like MIA on the verses, but the sweet chorus vocals give the song a little more depth.

Theophilus London is trying find the perfect balance to achieve stardom. The elements are falling into place: dance oriented grooves, vocals that tease between rapping and singing, and a whirlpool of pop music stylings. At the same time, his image management is spot on for generating the requisite hype. A little more polish and a hint of artistic depth and he should be well on his way.

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