R&B isn’t what it used to be. Not in some bitter, rosy-eyed, nostalgic sense of the phrase; just in terms of the simple, obvious difference between yesterday’s Motown soul and today’s Torontonian melancholy.
With his new album, “Whatever Makes U Happy”, JMSN takes a huge swing at reinvigorating some of those organic, soulful sounds of old. And, hey, who better to do it than a guy from Detroit who was actually signed to Motown Records? Right away on this album, there’s a certain sense that modernity has left the building, as the strange, wooden sound of live instruments in a studio comes into frame, leaving any hint of a synthesizer or auto-tune far behind.
In fact, JMSN‘s “Whatever Makes U Happy” plays a lot like one continuous studio session captured on tape, as songs flow seamlessly into one another with sounds of post-take chatter and thoughtlessly strummed guitar strings ringing out unashamedly. This sort of casualness is a deep part of the music itself, as well, in that many of the tracks sound as though they’re closer to a demo or a captured jam-session than a finished master – but usually in a good way.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/310066143″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Take “Drinkin”, the album’s opener, for example. The ingredients are minimal, consisting mainly of a steady 6/8 drum beat, a sprightly bassline, some organ and, of course, JMSN’s own off-the-cuff crooning. Insofar as this recipe is whipped up into this initial alcoholic anthem – with a few tweaks, it serves as a framework for a fair share of the ‘meal’ that is “Whatever Makes U Happy”.
As such, songs like “Love Ain’t Enough”, “Slowly”, and “Patiently” all share a common thread, while also treading a common line between cohesion and repetition. At its best, the album’s consistent and ultra-laid-back style serves to shape a sound that’s fresh in its nostalgia and soothing in its simplicity. However, at its worst, it’s responsible for spots of lazy lyricism, underdeveloped songwriting, and tiresome vibes.
On “Whatever Makes U Happy”, the vision is bold, the execution is admirable, and JMSN’s future is intriguing.
Whether JMSN’s approach feels like a reinvention of the wheel or a misguided effort is something that’s deeply dependent on every listener and each individual listen. However, the extra glimpses of underexplored potential seen on tracks like “Slide” and “Where Do U Go” have me leaning further toward the latter.
“Slide”, with its Fleetwood Mac-esque acoustic guitar lines and vivid lyrical images of a metaphorical “ring of fire around me”, gives a longing insight into what might’ve been, had JMSN spent more time building off of a classic-R&B foundation, rather than allowing it to become somewhat of a comfort zone. “Where Do U Go”, on the other hand, gives a taste of the luxurious strings that JMSN has wonderfully utilized in some of his previous work – a taste that is sweet at first, but grows bitter as the sense sets in that an expanded sonic pallet might’ve been exactly what this album needed to excel.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/315268585″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
At the end of the day, JMSN has put any questions regarding his musicianship and willingness to subvert any and all contemporary norms to rest with “Whatever Makes U Happy”. Relying on little more than a tight band and a great voice, the album is an intriguing piece to see crop up in 2017; and yet, intrigue doesn’t always translate to excellence. The vision here is bold, the execution is admirable, and JMSN’s future is, once again, intriguing.