Tuesday, June 24, 2008

N.E.R.D | Seeing Sounds

There are few producers who can both craft bust your shit open beats and wreck havoc on the mic. Dr. Dre is probably the best at doing both, never mind the constant ghostwriting rumors. Timbaland attempted the duties on his recent solo album and the results were lackluster. N.E.R.D, The Neptunes's Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo with their childhood friend Shay Haley, have been the most consistent, though often underwhelming, producers-as-headlining artists. Their latest effort Seeing Sounds continues their proud beat-making tradition (see Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury for evidence) and their ongoing lyrical challenges.

"Everyone Nose," the album's first single, is brilliant and infuriating. The music is a cross between Bomb Squad horn blasts, live drums, and chaotic scratching. But in the middle of this sonic assault, there is an absurd slow keyboard interlude that disrupts the vibe with lyrics such as, "You partied all night in sixth gear/just so you know." The tune's hook is so long and convoluted ("All the girls standing in the line for the bathroom") it barely works as a hook. If if weren't for the spectacular beat, well, you wouldn't have a song.

Hooks that do work, in "Anti-Matter" for example, where a fuzzed guitar lead and funk drums provide a steady bottom for the nonsensical lyrics ("You're so anti don't I matter?"), are bookended by verses that say little. Example: "Life is short in black and white/just like little penguins." True, very often the point of hip-hop and pop is to dance and get funky, not to have meaningful lyrics. I'm not looking for meaning in the lyrics though, I'm looking not to be distracted by silliness. Sometimes silliness is an absolute virtue (Beastie Boys, Del tha Funkee Homosapien), but here it interferes with the flow of the beats and the verses.

Maybe The Neptunse and Shay aren't that good at multitasking. In their critically lauded debut In Search Of... the music was played by power-pop, psychedelic outfit Spymob. Perhaps that freed Pharrell and Chad to write better lyrics. Though the guitarist and drummer from Spymob also contribute to this album, it didn't help the lyrics much. Seeing Sounds is all about club bangers, headphone beat deconstruction, and dancing. Who listens to lyrics on the dancefloor anyway?
(Photo credit: Leslie Kee)

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