What’s in an album title? Is the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds really the equivalent of a bizarre noise fest of primitive experimentation? Is Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. the absolute story of life as a working man in America? In any case, an album’s title informs the listener of what to expect, even in the most minimalist of senses. In the case of Brooklyn MC Theophilus London and his debut album, Timez Are Weird These Days, things may not be that weird, but London is skilled at capturing a particular sensibility that could leave him labeled as odd by some and revolutionary by others. The absolute truth, though, is that like our mothers undoubtedly told each of us at some point, being different is a very good thing.
In “All Around the World”, a rollicking, church revival-style ditty, London outlines that he’s “back to making music like it’s 1964,” resurrecting a style and a particular joie de vivre that is almost unheard of in modern hip-hop. And better than anything else, London lives up to that mythos as a ladies’ man/jet-setter whose playground is as much Brooklyn as it is Monaco. A particularly telling sign of that behavior is the way he treats his female guests (not the kind that sleep over, mind you). In “Love Is Real”, while the track is an electro-clash head-nodder and Holly Miranda’s vocals are pure New Wave, the connection between the two hearkens back to a time when female vocalists weren’t fodder for the male’s sexual appetite. Instead, the two work together in an indirect way to make a warm, sensual track. “Why Even Try”, featuring Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara, accomplishes the same feat, this time using ethereal traces of Quin’s vocals during London’s verses to mirror his rare moment of self-doubt before the two meld their voices in sweet harmony during the chorus.
That retro worldview does wonders beyond these tracks to further demonstrate London’s gentlemanly behavior. In “Love Is Real”, for instance, there’s a line that goes, “We took a trip down Mexico/ I nearly shot myself like Plexico/ But with a mouth so fast she was technical/ Now don’t turn into a vegetable”. As decidedly tacky as this is, it works for London in the same vein that ’80s rap tracks from a Kool Moe Dee or the slightly cheesier The Fat Boys went over so well; there’s something– partially intangible and partially just good old-fashioned authenticity– about London that makes these rhymes work. Even when he gets more foul-mouthed in “Stop It” (“She got drunk/ Showed her pussy on WorldStar”), there’s something almost precocious and less demeaning about the statement. Once more, it ties back into the MC’s role as a throwback to a simpler, possibly better time in hip-hop, one where men were men for how strong they were and everything was about having a good time (which reaches a sort of intoxicating high in “Girls Girls $”).
London’s ultimate appeal may also stem from the fact that, beyond the flash and swagger, he’s kind of a romantic at heart without being overly irritating about it. At one end of the spectrum, you have “Wine and Chocolates”, where the rapper does his best Kid Cudi, only better. He’s open and vulnerable to a laid-back, INXS-ian groove. There’s still plenty of cocksuredness, but it’s worldly and admirable in the same way that so many people adore about James Bond. But that track pales in comparison to when London turns up the synth and churns out some great ’80s-inspired synth pop. The three tracks in question, “One Last Time”, “Lighthouse”, and “I Stand Alone”, come right in a row, building a section of the record that adds some vigor to an older sound, tackling the concepts of loneliness and re-invigoration with hugely epic synths. They’re less flashy than some of the more straightforward rap offerings but once again illustrate London’s skill as a truly diversified musician. More than showing off his skills, this trio of songs demonstrates a greater truth about this LP: Nothing, be it labels or names or even time itself, can hold Theophilus London back from making great music.