Album Review: Theophilus London – Lovers Holiday EP

It’s been fairly easy for the head-scratchingly New York-born Theophilus London to make a name for himself in the emerging funk/electro pop sphere, particularly in the U.K. (perhaps they mistake him for one of their own?), as well as among indie kids and supporters of non-mainstream hip-hop. It could be due to the affection he’s received from artists like Mark Ronson and Ellie Goulding or his guest spot on one of the better tunes on last year’s debut from David Sitek’s alter ego, Maximum Balloon. Or, it could be because he’s a self-proclaimed fashion guru who only credits Morrisey and The Smiths with influence. He’s obviously got a keen sense for getting himself out there, appearing in GQ and Esquire Magazines; he’s always dressed in stylish attire, and he’s been able to create quite a stir amidst the blogosphere regarding exactly what his music should be called. Some blend of the words funk, disco, electronic, rap, hip-hop, and indie would have to do. Indie fundistronic raphop?

As his most recent Lovers Holiday EP exhibits, London is first and foremost a pop artist, and this here is a pop record. Not, of course, Katy Perry or Justin Bieber pop. Remember, even mind-altering musicians like Goulding or Adele are considered pop, as well as Vampire Weekend’s “Giving Up The Gun” (a song London sampled for “Give It Up, Dad”), and London shall be placed here in this innovative sub-genre of popular music.

But what exactly classifies as pop these days? In this post-Kanye world where rap and pop have at times been indistinguishable, where sing-rapping and Kid Cudi style crooning has become the norm (I’ll dare you to claim a single member on the G.O.O.D. Records roster isn’t a rapper), London is receiving praise for being an indie rapper who’s fun and clearheaded, who isn’t self-destructive like Tyler The Creator, nor satirically funny like Das Racist. And while this is by no means London’s fault, it needs to be stated clearly that London does not create rap music. He can be considered hip-hop, rather hip-pop, and in this genre, London certainly offers an endowment of colorful melodies, as on Lovers Holiday.

It’s understandable why London would be confused as a contributor to the rap scene; he spits in a style that resembles Cudi, a bit too much even. He’s come to fame by putting out three mixtapes adhering to a DIY motif and fits the description of a post-Kanye rapper (skinny jeans, interests in indie music). But if one were to describe him strictly based on Lovers Holiday, the fondness for disco, electronic Dam Funk-style beats (though they’re nowhere as good), dream pop construction, and r&b hooks would be more readily apparent.

Yes, he does “rap,” but his methods of production have more in common with 80’s revivalists Chromeo or Games than with Cudi or even electro-pop/rap duo Chiddy Bang. London fancies synths over drumbeats, particularly new wave style ambience, 8-bit samples and a prominent focus on bass, which has been the emerging fixture in the U.K. these days. He enlists fellow hipster enthusiast Solange Knowles on the EP’s lead single, the glistening, sparkling “Going Overseas”, as well as Sara Quin (of Tegan & Sara fame) on the hazy, seductive “Why Even Try”. The penultimate track, “Wine And Chocolates”, sounds a lot like a TV On The Radio joint or at least something from the mind of David Sitek. These are certainly not the makings of a rap record.

Again, one can only applaud him for making music he enjoys, for merging these aforementioned genres on this preview of a debut LP likely to drop this year. Lyrically, Lovers Holiday doesn’t overstep the boundaries of creative practice, sharing a likeliness with R&B for the somewhat redundant themes represented. Yet, it’s the lyrics and the bouncy pop-ness of the production that eventually override the other influences present – the synths, the disco, the bass, the electronica – ridding Lovers Holiday of what would have made it unique, rather than just fun. It may not be as appealing to indie kids, though it’s unlikely to be played much on the radio either, at least in North America. This isn’t the strongest pop record, but it’s a start. Let’s just hope he has a few more tricks up his sleeve for his first proper.


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