“Timez Are Weird These Days”
Theophilus London is not British, he just sounds like it. There’s the name, of course, the fleeting cockney accent and the less fleeting stylistic resemblance to Brit sensation Tinie Tempah, one of many rappers and singers to whom London owes a great deal.
But London, Trinidad-born and Brooklyn-raised, is in everything else as American as it gets, from his sometimes unrequited love of ’70s soul to his enthusiasm for the lesser works of Michael Jackson to the multiple endorsement deals he is only too happy to mention throughout his engaging, exhausting official debut, “Timez Are Weird These Days.”
London has the record collection of an aesthete and the heart of a scenester, and “Timez” skims the surface of a variety of club-friendly genres — including bass-driven pop, hip-hop and disco — before settling on a frothy mix of electro-soul and ’80s pop/R&B, emphasis on “’80s”: “Why Even Try,” a collaboration with Tegan & Sara’s Sara Quin, sounds as if it escaped from an alternate universe’s “Footloose” soundtrack.
London is a loose-limbed rapper and a halfway decent singer who does both things at once, like a more alert Kid Cudi. On the giddy opening jam “Last Name London,” he gleefully name-checks himself, at least one sponsor (he has a Cole Haan contract, maybe he has mentioned it?) and Skype, then himself again. He keeps things interesting throughout, though “Timez” is occasionally repetitive and overly slight. Songs sometimes just fizzle out, as if London wandered off to do something else halfway through and forgot about them. When it comes to synthesizing ideas, London is aces, but he’s not much of a closer.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Last Name London,” “One Last Time”
Travis Egedy is a 26-year-old knob-twiddler who makes electronic music at home, utilizing an array of samples and self-produced beats. For someone his age, this is about as common as having outstanding student loans. But a major difference between the guy who calls himself Pictureplane and many of his home-cooked brethren is that Egedy’s songs are meant to be heard blasting from big sound systems in big spaces, instead of pulsing gently through headphones in the cozy confines of a bedroom.
Egedy has been making music since his late teens, and “Thee Physical” is Pictureplane’s most professional collection of songs to date. With floor-shaking beats and hooky vocal chants as the primary ingredients, it mostly nods to the thumping sounds of ’90s techno. (An album-opening sample from Wildchild’s inescapable ’90s club anthem “Renegade Master” announces this right off the bat.) “Thee Physical” is also an album that is true to its name. Pictureplane has little use for anything resembling detached coolness; Egedy wants bodies touching bodies. His song titles — including “Sex Mechanism” and “Touching Transform” — and lyrics suggest as much, and rarely anything more.
Pictureplane’s best songs split the difference between tracks that you’d hear at a warehouse rave and the stores that sell clothes to people who would be at such a place. The overblown synths on “Real is a Feeling” spike, surge and glide with some pop grace. “Trancegender” is a crack-of-dawn anthem with a simple chorus (“You can be my boy and I can be your girl / Genderless”) that might sound deep at 5 a.m. The rest of these songs don’t have the same propulsive energy, but if you were on the dance floor in the first place, they wouldn’t scare you off.
— David Malitz
Recommended tracks: “Real is a Feeling,” “Trancegender”
Since John Flansburgh and John Linnell formed They Might Be Giants in 1982, the band has evolved into a veritable power-pop institution, well loved by loyal fans for its superior wit and eclecticism. Throughout the years, TMBG has demonstrated a creative restlessness that ensures the audience will never quite know what to expect next. Three of the band’s previous four studio albums have been intended for children. Its fantastic new release, “Join Us,” featuring Linnell’s priceless opener, “Can’t Keep Johnny Down,” is decidedly not fun for the whole family.
TMBG records are typically stocked with infectious melodies surrounded by cheerful keyboards, harmonies and droll, winking vocals. On “Join Us,” the aura of confection is used to cover up some of the most spiteful writing in recent memory; lyrics displace the band’s standard satirical remove with something more bracingly personal. “Judy is Your Viet Nam” is a witheringly funny sketch of an aging social parasite in decline: “You met Judy in the ’90s / She’s the storm before the calm.”
Meaner and funnier still is the jaw-droppingly vituperative “When Will You Die,” a 2 1/ 2-minute fantasy of pure invective every bit as vicious and giddily catchy as Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street”: “Each year we’ll mark the date / on which we celebrate / Look me in the eye / tell me when you’ll die?”
These are guilty pleasures but sublime ones. Almost 30 years into a storied career, the band has made an album as inspired and idiosyncratic as its earliest recordings. As far as TMBG goes, the day the band dies cannot be far enough in the future.
— Elizabeth Nelson
Recommended tracks: “Can’t Keep Johnny Down,” “When Will You Die,” “Judy Is Your Viet Nam”