Theophilus London wants to make one thing clear: His new album Vibes is executive produced by Kanye West. He's splashed the information all over promotional material and told everyone. Just how involved West was in the process of recording the album is anyone's guess — same goes for "art director" Karl Lagerfeld — but if we're to believe London, they were instrumental in its execution. While you can't fault the guy for wanting to surround himself with influential artists, their involvement seems to be overshadowing the narrative surrounding Vibes, but maybe that was the plan all along.
The production on the album is first-class, with London enlisting a stellar roster of producers to help: legendary artist Leon Ware pops up on a few tracks, as both writer and performer, French electronic producer Brodinski helps out on a handful of tracks, as does Adam Pavao (of New Look fame), and many others. Together, they offer up a mix of electronica, neo-soul, '80s funk and a plethora of other genres (although London's assertion that he was inspired by post-punk is to be debated) that fill the album to the brim with catchy synth-lines and throwback drum patterns. But a unified artistic whole it does not make, regardless how many time "Vibes" is repeated sultrily throughout the album.
"When Theophilus London began working on his second album for Warner Bros. Records, he wanted his artistic scope to be limitless," reads the first line of the album's press release, hinting at a much higher level of ambition than what's on offer throughout Vibes' 12 tracks. The album has great moments, such as early single "Neu Law" — which, incidentally, is what got Kanye on board — and the Jesse Boykins-III featuring "Tribe," but as the video for the latter demonstrates, the whole thing feels rather contrived. When London speaks about Ware's contribution, he mentions how they "don't have time to talk about money, cars, [themselves] or the girls [they're] with," yet proceeds to fill most tracks with lyrics about those exact things, not to mention the glaringly misguided ode to London's ability to turn lesbians straight, "Do Girls," with lyrics as bad as they are offensive. Even Kanye's verse on "Can't Stop," while it does bring back his College Dropout-era flow, is disappointingly undercooked (although London claims he spent two months working on it,) with 'Ye repeating his now-infamous line "It ain't Ralph tho" twice in less than a minute — at least the song is catchy and nicely samples Norman Feels' "Can't Stop My Love."
Does Vibes serve as the great artistic outlet London makes it out to be? No. But what the album does have going for it is its overarching aesthetic: It's an album that has a nice enough groove throughout, and again, the quality of the production really cannot be overstated. Maybe London should have let the album speak for itself. (Warner Bros.)