Theophilus London’s sophomore outing, Vibes, radiates familiarity. You can undoubtedly hear his influences from Prince to 80s funk, smooth 90s R&B, dancehall and even a splash of Krautrock. That nagging question, “What song does this sound like?” breathes down your neck throughout its runtime. Not to say the album simply marinates in vintage sounds. Fresher accents mingle with hand-me-downs thanks to Theophilus and his co-executive producers, Kanye West and legendary songwriter, musician Leon Ware.
Vibes excels at establishing mood, particularly in the opening stretch. The skeletal production allows Theophilus to float in and out of the porous beats. Sensual opener “Water Me” welcomes us to Theophilus’ bedroom at 2 a.m. with even-tempered, sunken synths. “Water me and I will grow” he says to his desired lover, voice echoing, between faux-profound ramblings about love, death, and money that make sense if you don’t pay attention. Suddenly, the mood sours and sharpens on a lo-fi experimenter: the John Maus’ sampling “Neu Law,” with its 50 shades of Krautrock, Laser beam sonar pings, dramatic wails and electric guitar reminiscent of moments on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” surround Theophilus declaring, “That’s the law.” That water line must not have worked out for him.
Love in all its forms appear throughout Vibes. Good ol’ fashioned romance constitutes the Theophilus and Kanye duet, “Can’t Stop.” Theophilus dons his rapping cap to spit about a girl in a sweet, reserved manner. “We set alarm clocks just to wake and bake/She cooked up a salt fish, I fry the bake,” he raps. It has a softer sound hearkening back to mid-Oughts Kanye; Kanye’s influence is most tangible here, aside from the fact he’s actually on the track. Theophilus indulges in sleazier sides of love on the 80s-styled neon, lustful shuffle, “Heartbreaker,” saying, “My mind is telling me no, but my friend downstairs says yes.” The Weeknd is not credited as a writer here. The aptly woozy “Smoke (Interlude)” featuring Soko finds Theophilus speaking in bad boy, good girl platitudes. That sort of boring, braggadocious sexual numbskullery rears its excessively confident head on “Do Girls.” Theophilus observes, “All these girls be frontin/trynna be in disguise.” Well, that’s because they haven’t met Mr. Theophilus London! “I convert em,” he claims.
Theophilus is by no means a stellar writer, but he succeeds at offering friendly, enjoyable grooves. Theophilus brings the mirth on the radio frequency squeaks-accented, swaying “Smoke Dancehall.” The lead single, “Tribe” featuring Jesse Boykins III sounds like a vigorous, arousing time on the dance floor. The cheerful, hand-holding promoting “Need Somebody” would kill at a Bar Mitzvah.
Vibes doesn’t establish Theophilus as a scintillating artistic voice, nor a cog in the pop music machine. He does recognize genre styles in a satisfying fashion. Theophilus definitely sounds like he’s next in line to fill the recently vacant spot on G.O.O.D. music’s roster. He has a melodious, accessible voice that mostly emanates good vibes. The production predictably shines seeing as who was behind the boards. Once Vibes ends, it feels like stumbling out of the club on to the sidewalk, sidling your way into a circle of people in mid-conversation, and acting like you’ve been there the whole time. You’ve already forgotten the details of what happened inside, but you had fun, and now it’s time to eat some hash browns.
3 out of 5
You can download Vibes here.