Published Apr 06, 2016Mayer Hawthorne's fourth solo album, Man About Town, is the Michigan native's first since 2013's Where Does This Door Go, and his first with L.A.-based label Vagrant Records. Hawthorne was far from idle in the two years separating solo efforts; he released 2014's The Big Knock with 14KT as Jaded Incorporated, an album with Jake One as Tuxedo in 2015, and of course made the aforementioned label switch, a move inspired by Hawthorne's desire for creative control. Man About Town is bold and aptly titled, a slick, confident, and clearly autonomous expression of the neo-soul identity Hawthorne has carved out over the past eight years.
Although his hometown of Ann Arbor isn't too far from Motown, Hawthorne is pretty far removed from the era and archetypal image of traditional soul singers. Yet somehow, Hawthorne's smooth persona doesn't feel contrived, and his unique combination of blue-eyed soul and electro rarely seems out of place. Perhaps the only exception to the rule here is on the sensual "Breakfast in Bed," on which he sings, "Champagne, strawberry jam / I want you to know who I am / French toast, we'll do the most / I know it's got to end" — there's something goofy about reciting a hotel room service menu that ruins the mood.
Forgiving his brief bout of cheesiness, though, Hawthorne radiates a welcomed kind of effortless levity here. He has the ability to make even sad songs upbeat, as on the disco-styled "Book of Broken Hearts," where he croons "We had a good thing / but not enough to keep the engine humming / To tune it up" while percolating bass pops in the background. He keeps the fun rolling on "Lingerie & Candlewax," where a more aloof Hawthorne sings about smoking weed in a Cadillac, then slides into themes of globetrotting decadence for the reggae-tinged "Fancy Clothes," before returning to California with Steely Dan synths on "The Valley." The album concludes with the funked-up closer "Out of Pocket."
Despite running the gamut on genres, Hawthorne's subject matter is singular and firmly rooted in his new life on the West coast. There is an invigorating energy that shines through the lyrics and tempo of this album, so although lyrics about the finer things of California living aren't necessarily profound or entirely relatable, on Man About Town, Hawthorne's buoyant optimism for beginning anew in 2016 is utterly contagious. (Vagrant)