Audio Day Dream
Blake Lewis doesn't seem like the kind of guy who watches American Idol. The popular narrative is that he stood out on the show as something of a freak—not in the train-wreck style of William Hung or Sanjaya Malakar, but as a genuine music lover with a breadth of taste (from Seattle's Blue Scholars to trance douche BT to local drum 'n' bass monster KJ Sawka) and a weapon of choice (beatboxing) not often seen on the program. In a machine designed to create massively palatable, middling pop stars, Lewis looked like a possible monkey wrench. He finished in second place.
It's disappointing, then, but not entirely surprising, that his debut album, Audio Day Dream, washes out whatever stylistic quirks or ambitions Lewis may have hinted at on the show in favor of predictable, vanilla pop. Audio Day Dream casts Lewis as a budget Justin Timberlake, only without JT's blown-out personality or the considerable muscle of Timbaland's futurist production (again, Audio Day Dream gets the budget version; most of the album is produced by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, whose current radio monster, "Apologize," is itself a Timbaland joint).
Additionally, some of the choices here are just bizarre. "Gots to Get Her" inexplicably bites Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz" for its verse and the Hollywood horn stabs of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" for its chorus. "Surrender" flubs a decent melody with lyrics more befitting Kirk Van Houten's "Can I Borrow a Feeling?" ("two hearts that need some healing"). Lupe Fiasco is game on "Know My Name," but his boasts could've been phoned in by anybody (one can't help but think of T.I.'s fully invested heat on "My Love"). And the album is bloated with forgettable ballads.
Which is not to say it's without its moments. The warmed-over funk of lead single "Break Anotha" is briefly livened up by a double-time jazz break. Cold breakup ballad "How Many Words" is for the most part merely inoffensive, but its voice-scratching chorus is legitimately catchy. The alternating falsettos and talkboxes and mess of video game blips on "She's Makin' Me Lose It" is satisfyingly busy. In these too-brief flashes, Lewis's potential peeks out from under the test-marketed sheen, but it's not enough to make Audio Day Dream a reverie instead of a snooze. ERIC GRANDY
Blake Lewis plays Thurs Dec 20 at Showbox at the Market with the Mob Law and Doxology, 8 pm, $15, all ages.
Public Enemy #1 Mixtape
Harlem's savior, the don of the Diplomats—Cam'ron—has finally returned. Since his high-profile beefs with 50 Cent and Jay-Z and an alleged altercation with Jay's boy Tru Life, Cam'ron's been MIA like paper planes. The question on airbody's lips: "Where's Cam?" (like he's some pink-furred Waldo on the periphery of Everyhood, USA). A lot's changed in the meantime—Dipset capo Jim Jones, ballin' off his massive hit "We Fly High," went rogue, talking down on his benefactor and even hanging tough with 50! How do you bounce back from such treachery?
If you're Cam, you reemerge, swagger intact, and drop a double-disc mixtape brimming with the Technicolor idiot-savant verse that made him the champion of town-gown-sporting hood denizens and American Apparel types alike. Nothing on this remarkable collection sums it up better than the Tony Soprano headache of "Just Us," where Killa diddybops the finest of lines between profound and puerile over a hook jacked from Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." At first, Cam's earnest, solemnly empathizing with a young mother's hard-knock life (sick ma, kid with sickle cell, yadda yadda)—then he proceeds to "Sanchez" her. Afterward, a thoughtful Cam, apropos of nothing, drops: "Lack of communication/that there destroys a nation," and then tops it off with yet another Dirty Sanchez. Why not?
Like all double discs, Public Enemy #1 has more filler here than a Yankee Stadium ballpark frank—but the good material, like the slick, bleacher-stomp of "Can't Hurt My Style," is worth the fat. And even that fat is kind of enchanting—the six-minute spoken intro is a clinic in arrogant shit talk, and the sumptuously named "Roaches in the Chicken Skit" is just as incredible as you'd hope. Immediately following it: a totally touching song about his dead homies.
Aw, Cam—who could stay mad at you? LARRY MIZELL JR.
Oi Oi Oi
Ever since Justice blew the lid off this rock 'n' roll/new-rave clusterfuck, producers have been chomping at the bit to steal their formula. While most of the results have been pretty lame, Boys Noize is, for the most part, a rare exception. Cooked up by Berlin-based producer Alex Ridha, Boys Noize snatches Justice's most obvious sonic trademarks—gritty bass riffs, overcompression, noisy production—and mixes it with his native country's way tidier, motorik techno. The end result purges out both genres' annoying valleys without con- sistently reaching either style's potential peaks.
The track that best realizes the French/minimal connection on Oi Oi Oi is "Oh!" The song eases up on the ZZ Top distortion, and its bass line sounds like a linear, controlled riff in comparison to Justice's wandering leads. But aside from the differing riff aesthetic, it's the drums that really mark this as straight outta Berlin: The shuffle is all Gary Glitter sway 'n' stomp. It lacks the syncopation of minimal, but it takes a huge hint from the "schaeffel" timing of producers like Kompakt's Thomas Fehlmann.
The problem is Boys Noize can't have it both ways. Ridha can't ditch minimal's boring tendencies and still harness the syncopation; he can't tame the French house bass line and still have the wild energy. So, what he often leaves you with on Oi Oi Oi are tracks that almost hit the sweet spot... right up until the final two tracks. "Frau" and "My Moon My Man" (a remix of the same-titled Feist song) are like companion tracks to "Oh!"—proof that when Ridha actually nails his balancing act, he can beat the French at their own game. BRANDON IVERS