Mayer Hawthorne - How Do You Do

Posted October 6, 2011

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, particularly when it comes to music. Sometimes we’ll hear...

How Do You Do Album Review

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, particularly when it comes to music. Sometimes we’ll hear a song, even if only from the window of a passing car, and we’ll be overwhelmed by a flood of memories (for me it’s Bel Biv DeVoe’s Poison). Suddenly that song is the greatest song ever written, not because of any inherent quality, but because it serves as a bridge to a time when we were happier (or at least we think we were happier). Equally dangerous, however, is anti-nostalgia; the belief that nostalgia exaggerates so powerfully that anything old can’t be trusted to actually be good.

Sorry anti-nostalgists, but you’re wrong - just take 60’s soul. Unlike today, when songs disappear into the caverns of our iPods as quickly as we download them, in the ’60s the average person might own ten albums, period. When someone’s only given ten albums to listen to for years they demand the depth to withstand repeated listens and the range to fit their best and worst days. It’s a demand that’s largely not placed on the modern artist, but none-the-less certain artists seem inexorably drawn to that era. Artists like Mayer Hawthorne.

The music Hawthorne’s making certainly isn’t new, it’s not even new in the retro sense. From Amy Winehouse to Raphael Saadiq we’ve heard his Motown meets the 21st century style for years now, but unlike certain trends (cough, swag, cough, auto-tune) timeless music, by definition, transcends trends. Can we ever really have too much good music? Could we ever have too many How Do You Dos?

That was a rhetorical question. No we can’t. Hawthorne’s debut album is filled with reminders of why Mayer planted himself firmly on the radars of music fans, regardless of their affiliations. Case in point Can’t Stop, a softly rocking cut whose hypnotizing overlays of guitars, horns and strings will have both hip-hop heads and their parents nodding their heads. And to really drive home the point he even brings on Snoop Dogg to deliver an entirely sung guest verse that’s way, way better than you think a singing Snoop verse would be (seriously). As Can’t Stop shows, Mayer’s incorporation of 2011 elements aren’t mash-ups. Instead he injects them subtly, for instance injecting a “sh*tty fu**king attitude” into the otherwise completely classically structured The Walk or laying down synths into the uptempo Finally Falling. Crucially, on How Do You Do Hawthorne isn’t copying Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson, he’s building his own music homes on their foundations.

Now here comes the part where the music critic injects a “but” solely to suck all the enjoyment out of music. How Do You Do is a great listen, but…there’s just no getting around the fact that Mayer Hawthorne isn’t an especially strong singer. For a while I couldn’t figure out why some of the songs on the album weren’t connecting with me the way I thought they should – it’s Mayer’s voice. Just take Stick Around, a swinging cut begging for some real strength, but instead we get a breathy, quasi-falsetto from Hawthorne that instead of driving the track hangs on for the ride. Similarly, You’re Not Ready is an excellently written song, and it’s still one of my favorites on the album, but I can’t help but think that someone with more range could have made me feel some real emotion. No one’s asking for the man to transform into Whitney Houston, those kind of constant fireworks are like no fireworks at all, I’d just like a little more. Now there’s no shortage of times that Mayer’s understated vocal style works for him, like on No Strings, but even considering his myriad skills Mayer Hawthorne is, first and foremost, a singer, and great singers have to possess great voices.

While the paragraph above will certainly hold How Do You Do back from joining the ranks of the classic albums it’s so clearly inspired by, the depth and range the album provides gives it an air of timelessness that will certainly outlast most of its contemporary peers. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be walking down the street, hear How Do You Do playing out the window of a passing car, and be swept up in a nostalgia for a time when music truly meant something.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted October 6, 2011
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