Theophilus London - I Want You

Posted May 10, 2010

There are really only two ways to listen to Theophilus London’s new project I Want You, and...

I Want You Album Review

There are really only two ways to listen to Theophilus London’s new project I Want You, and I’m only capable of one. So let’s start with what I can’t do. Judging from reviews of his previous work (This Charming Mixtape, Jam!), obsessive music nerds – you know, the kind who say things like “I haven’t liked Arcade Fire since Howard Bilerman left” - find it impossible to listen to London’s work without launching into detailed and often dissections of his eclectic output. Now I Want You very well may be “L.A. electrofunk, UK indie, tropical escapade and obscure afropop you never knew existed”, as the mixalbum’s press release says, but I’ll be real; I don’t know what that means. My house was filled with the sounds of Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield growing up, not Morrissey and The Smiths, so while I Want You is undoubtedly filled with a myriad of influences and references, most of them went over my head.

In other words, I listened to I Want You the other way, the ignorant way, and it’s probably for the best. Instead of using this as an opportunity to name as many obscure bands as possible we can just focus on the music. This is DJBooth, not Pitchfork. Sound good? I thought so.

That doesn’t mean I don’t know nothing, if I can be forgiven for the triple negative. For example, I know the title track I Want You is essentially a London freestyle over Marvin Gaye’s classic track of the same name. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Jay used the same “spitting over a Marvin Gaye instrumental” formula on his American Gangster track American Dreamin. See, now this I know. More importantly, I Want You gives us the clearest opportunity of the mixalbum to assess London’s rhymes skills, which… wait. I just realized London completely jacked Jay’s Dreamin cadence for I Want You. Oops. Speaking of which, he’s a little more forthright about his influences on Oops (Tweet Cover), a reworking of Tweet’s ode to masturbation that London embeds with a dark edge. It’s easily the project’s most openly entertaining track, though the smoky Life of a Lover is a close second. Lover may be slightly less accessible, but musically speaking it’s London at his best as he sets the sonic mood with a jazzy backdrop, engaging verses and a hypnotic hook. It’s a similar story on the bouncing Accept the New and chorus-heavy Starry Eyed (Remix). It’s on tracks like these that London’s willingness to experiment work most powerfully, and when I Want You is at its most listenable.

If I can coalesce all of the haters’ complaints against London’s work into one broad category it’d be “you’re not doing anything original, you’re just copying other original people,” but that’s frankly not a road I want to go down (see the intro). Instead, I feel much more comfortable pointing out that London often sounds overwhelmed by the music surrounding him throughout I Want You. On tracks like Don’t Be Afraid it feels like the production is in the driver’s seat with London riding shotgun, despite his best attempts to asset his vocal existence with several sharply enunciated “f**k”s. And while Give It Up Dad has some definite stuck-in-your-head potential, it’s the up-tempo pacing and lofty hook that will have the track revolving around your cranium, not London’s verses. I could say the same of the lightly funked Light Years and Pyromilitia, both tracks that start out white hot but cool significantly by their end, mostly because of an inexplicably extended absence from London himself. I Want You, and London’s music as a whole, is about mood first, and details last, which ironically has the effect of making him sometimes feel lost amongst his own songs.

Ultimately though, as much as London’s music may draw listeners into esoteric and meta-discussions, the only thing that really matters is: would I want to listen to I Want You again? Um, kind of. How’s that for an intelligent answer? You’re right, I shouldn’t be so vague. In that case, no. No I won’t. If listening to I Want You taught me anything, it’s that I enjoy London’s work most as a change of pace from the norm, but over the course of an entire album, when London’s music becomes the norm, it simply can’t hold my attention. I Want You isn’t music to fall in love to, and it’s certainly not music to music to lust to. Instead, let’s call it music to fall in like to.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted May 10, 2010
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