I’ve had no shortage of music industry professionals tell me, in all seriousness, that they’re looking for artists who fit an exact profile. They identify a hot trend (auto-tune, swag rap, etc.) and hurry to replicate it as many times as possible before the public grows bored and moves onto the next thing. It’s a strategy aimed at cobbling together enough small, short term successes to equal one big success, and one that’s not only artistically bankrupt but commercially naive. Quick, what do Adele, Eminem, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga have in common? One, they’re … ...Read the full album review
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DJBooth Album Review
I’ve had no shortage of music industry professionals tell me, in all seriousness, that they’re looking for artists who fit an exact profile. They identify a hot trend (auto-tune, swag rap, etc.) and hurry to replicate it as many times as possible before the public grows bored and moves onto the next thing. It’s a strategy aimed at cobbling together enough small, short term successes to equal one big success, and one that’s not only artistically bankrupt but commercially naive. Quick, what do Adele, Eminem, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga have in common? One, they’re all distinctly creative and unique artists who sound like absolutely no one else, and they’re the highest selling artists in the world. So if you’re an artist looking to drop a hot single and then end up the assistant manager of a carwash in five years, by all means, conform. But if you’re looking for longevity and blockbuster success, you’d be well advised to invest in originality…like Theophilus London. (I mean, how many other Theophilus’ are out there?)
It’s next to impossible to categorize London’s music. You could call it hipster rap, but that’d only be accurate in the sense that “hipster” equals willfully anti-mainstream. You could call it electro-retro-rap-popfunk-rap, but anytime that many hyphens are involved the words ultimately don’t mean anything. Instead, London may be one of those rare artists who simply demands to be heard. There simply aren’t that many other albums out there to compare his major label debut Timez Are Weird These Days to; although I’m going to try anyway.
As I just mentioned, it’d be impossible to break down Timez Are Weird by genre, but in the interest of writing an album review with even a hint of coherence, I’m going to start with London’s hip-hop roots, starting with the album’s lead track Last Name London. Besides the fact, I assume, it’s a reference to Drake’s now famous Over line, Last Name finds Theo as close to straight rhyming as he gets, albeit with some not exactly average lyrical references, i.e. Herbie Hancock. While it isn’t enough to win over true hip-hop heads, or at least close minded ones, it is enough to prove that his rap roots aren’t a gimmick. The album’s other more rhyme-oriented offering tackles a topic far more familiar to rap fans; Girls. Girls $. (Oh, and girls showing their p**sies on World Star.) While Girls is, fittingly, as lyrically shallow as the title suggests, Theo’s flow reaches its fastest here, revving up without losing his trademark mellow cool. We’d be here all night arguing over whether Timez is a hip-hop album – it’s not not a hip-hop album – so let’s just agree not to put any strict label on London’s more hip-hop influence and move on, shall we?
From there the album is a mixture of dance, pop and light rock – think if Diplo and Cindy Lauper had a baby, and that baby had been listening to a lot of Franz Ferdinard lately. The most obvious example is lead single Why Even Try, a mid-tempo jam that belies its sparkling surface with some melancholy half-talking, half-singing vocals from London. The actual singing comes courtesy of Sara Quin (of indie folk/rock darlings Tegan and Sara) but it’s London that gives the song its irresistibility (it’s a word now). Unless you go into Try determined not to have a good time, you will. While no other song on the album matches the easy appeal of When Even Try the rest of the album hovers in the same sonic territory, taking on an oddly classic rock vibe on All Around the World, slowing down into an electro-dance ballad on One Last Time and settling into midtempo harmlessness on One More Time. For a man who was barely born in the ‘80s, he certainly has his Reagan Era influences down cold.
In the end all you really need to know about this album is I Stand Alone, a guitar-driven track that isn’t just the album’s best, it’s a manifesto that’s as complete a song as I’ve heard from London. Call it a musical litmus test; of you like Stand Alone you’ll like Timez (and vice-versa). But ultimately where does that leave us? Does Timez Are Weird suggest that Theophilus London will be the next big thing, or just another blip in the timeline of music history? This may be a cop out, but that’s a hard question to answer. There’s just no contemporary precedent for music like this. And that might just be the best sign of all.
Listen to More: Theophilus London Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"High Five ft. Theophilus London" (2008)
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