In Theophilus London’s sophomore album, Vibes, the Trinidadian-born rapper breathes sizzling verse into an icy new wave soundscape. Seething under a wispy layer of electronic pops and fuzz, London cracks every track wide open in a soulful blur.
From the opening beats, it is clear that London is not here to please. While most albums try to get on your good side with the opening song, “Water Me” featuring Leon Ware is almost polarizing in its detached syncopation and faraway aches. But the edginess soon eases into a gooey chorus that weaves erotic squeals and whispers around the words “Water me and I will grow.” It’s sinfully good.
“Neu Law” is extremely different, but it’s a definite highlight and doesn’t feel out of place. With a dark beat and molten delivery, London almost evokes Kid Cudi in this dusky, urban struggle. The disquiet blooms unexpectedly into the synth-heavy “Take And Look,” a clear nod to the 80s that sounds like a murkier version of David Bowie’s “Fashion.”
He brings us back into a slow jam with “Can’t Stop” featuring Kanye West, who also served as executive producer on the album. The beat shuffles and flips restlessly underneath their earthy, organic narrative. Lines like “The grass is always greener when there’s bumblebees / She said to bring the flower seeds, I’ll bring the pumpkin seeds” and “We set alarm clocks just to wake and bake / She cooked up a salt fish and I fry the bake” bring tremendous flavor to the track.
“Get Me Right” yanks you into London’s mind with a starting pulse that is very reminiscent of the intro to “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe. A minute in and he breaks it into a full groove with the words, “When you got someone who can fight for you, give you what you need!”
The groove continues into the danceable “Heartbreak,” but swerves tensely into “Do Girls.” It’s a rigid track, with a phone call from a lesbian who cheats on her girlfriend with a man and is instantly distraught. “Tribe” featuring Jesse Boykins III is another unexpected lurch, back into the catchy dance realm.
London then coaxes us into “Smoke,” first with an interlude featuring Soko, followed by “Smoke Dancehall.” Soko digs in and begs seductively, “I want you / to teach me / how / be bad.” But when we enter the dancehall, everything turns wonderfully mellow and exotic. It’s refreshingly easygoing; a definite standout with truly good vibes.
“Need Somebody” featuring Leon Ware is a satisfying finish to Vibes. The pop progression resolves easily, and the line, “Just give me your hand to hold” is one of the first simple ideas we’ve heard. It’s a nice reward after such a whimsical, fitful journey.
London’s bonus track, “Figure It Out” features Devonte Hynes and The Force MDs. My first thought was Michael Jackson. My second thought was Boys II Men. It’s just sexy all around.
I have to admit that some post-production details, like how the word “vibes” is burned into almost every song at some point, feel like an afterthought to try to blend it all together. The takeaway, however, is London’s diversity. Though Vibes is, at times, a little disjointed, it’s interesting to see him play with so many different ideas.
The empty feeling that permeates every song is surprising for an album with such a chill name. But Vibes is strong in its hollow construction, like a big, empty palace.