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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The-Dream
Love Hate
Def Jam

Rating: 8/10 ?


April 21, 2008
Call Terius Nash a singer-songwriter - it's what he is - but don't let that appellation prompt grim thoughts of ancient strummers like Cat Stevens or James Taylor. Nash, who performs under the hyphen-endowed moniker The-Dream, is a clever and charming pop singer, an R&B entertainer who, at his best, is a sly and thoroughly audacious showman.

You've probably already heard The-Dream at his best, at least as a songwriter. He penned Rihanna's ubiquitous 2007 hit "Umbrella," a song that could be described as inescapable only if it were conceivable that anyone would want to escape it. He followed that success with "Bed," a tune performed by Washington D.C. singer J. Holiday that wasn't as omnipresent as the Rihanna hit, but was almost as pleasurable.

But proficiency behind the scenes is no guarantee of excellence in the spotlight. Pop music's division of labor is often an optimal arrangement: the writers, free from such requirements as showmanship and virtuosity, can focus on writing, while the stars, unencumbered by compositional demands, have room to more effectively stamp their personality on a performance. The-Dream's first single from Love Hate was the merely acceptable "Shawty is da Shit" (she's "a ten" on the radio); it sounds like sixteen hooks in search of a song, or maybe in search of a star.

Better is the album's second single, "Falsetto," a satisfying track based on a more than satisfying concept. The-Dream's lover, it seems, is predisposed to coital outbursts reminiscent of the titular vocal style, a quirk the singer is happy to re-enact for the chorus. But sandwiched between these two pleasant singles on Love Hate is one of the finest sequences you'll find committed to record this year, one that confirms that The-Dream is as much a pop showman as a one-man Tin Pan Alley. The intervening four-song suite concentrates the strengths of the album as a whole; it is a marvel of sequencing, production and performance, the tracks bleeding into each other like movements in a luxurious symphony.

"I Luv Your Girl" has The-Dream coveting another man's woman over a pillowy soundscape of delicate finger snaps, flitting harmonies and odd vocal turns. Similarly weird is "She Needs My Love," built on a beat ticking and chiming like clockwork beneath slowed-down vocals, trance-derived synthesizers and a line about "thongs chew-chewing on her asshole." Of course, absent hungry underwear, these are all common elements in contemporary pop music, and in some cases excessively common. It is to the credit of The-Dream and his frequent collaborator, producer Tricky Stewart, that these familiar sounds, in combination, create something distinctly alien. The result sounds like R&B turned inside out.

The great strength of Love Hate lies in the fact that The-Dream does not simply try to record songs he could have handed to other performers. He uses the control he has over each step of the creative process to transform the record into a vehicle for his own idiosyncrasies. The result is highly individual and attractively left-field pop music.

And a lot of what The-Dream does is unusual: he extends his metaphors just a little too far (the suggestion to call paramedics to resuscitate his lover should she ever be without him is a little too forceful), he apologizes to Oprah Winfrey after calling a woman a ho, he writes a song about lipstick ("Purple Kisses"), and he, with some success, tries to turn "pancakes with the bacon on the side" into a hook. The-Dream has the ability to imbue any phrase with a beguiling memorability, and he crams his songs full of them, turning tossed-off lines like "call 9-1-1" or "go head, suck it up" into melodic highlights that sparkle briefly before being extinguished for the next idea that captures his fancy. Like his larger-than-life predecessors Prince and R. Kelly, The-Dream emphasizes his oddities rather than subsuming them beneath professionalism.

The similarity to Prince in particular is no coincidence. "Fast Car" is a lovingly crafted rewrite of "Little Red Corvette," while titles like "Nikki" and "Purple Kisses" are further evidence of a Paisley Park inspiration. That influence is, for once, a good thing, perhaps because The-Dream demonstrates every desire to be as popular, not just as odd, as Prince (those unfamiliar with the usually disastrous consequences of imitating Prince should revisit Andre 3000's The Love Below). And like R. Kelly, The-Dream is supremely confident, in both his more absurd creative sidetracks as well as in his social and sexual aptitude.

The-Dream packs his record with reasons women should want to be with him and men should resign themselves to coming in second. When, in the supremely cruel "Nikki," a woman rejects the singer in favor of a rare rival who can outspend him, The-Dream still comes out on top. "It's awful cold in that house he bought you," he sings with empathy, but no sympathy. "Every time that you think of me, know I been making love to Nikki." Then, with all the bitterness he can muster, he twists the knife in, crowing: "…And she loves me back." It's R&B's most marvelously spiteful kiss-off since Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River."

And if the second half of the album isn't quite as strong as the first, it still has "Livin' a Lie," a deft collaboration with Rihanna, and "Luv Songs," in which the singer can't seem to work out whether he's spending an all-night session in the bedroom or the studio. In terms of the pleasure he appears to be deriving from the experience, it may not matter.

The-Dream makes no distinction between making music about making love and making music about making music. Elsewhere he refuses to differentiate between working behind the scenes and basking in the spotlight, or pursuing creativity and pursuing commerce. Love Hate is subtitled Love Me All Summer, Hate Me All Winter, but nothing about these tracks suggests that they're not built to last all year round. They're as versatile as the man who created them.

Reviewed by Jonathan Bradley
A contributing writer based in Australia.

See other reviews by Jonathan Bradley

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