The alternative R & B scene that has found its locale largely within America is one of the most interesting genres of the modern music landscape. Often the calling card of hip hop; strong overtones of self-referential bravado and play-by-play descriptions of feuds and affairs have become a prominent theme adopted into the alt R & B sound. This boasting however, finds a more emotive home in the often-melancholy and brooding melodies that has made R & B a staple genre in the past few years, interwoven with unfiltered confessions of love and lust.
PARTYNEXTDOOR, creation of Ontario-based artist Jahron Braithwaite is one of those alternative R & B projects that has gained a pretty impressive following. However, if this following was to be displayed on a Venn diagram counterpointed with those that remain infatuated with Drake, it runs the risk of forming a perfect circle. PARTYNEXTDOOR, after two albums, has failed to escape the Drake cosign shadow, a shadow that has claimed hip-hop artist ILOVEMAKONNEN and even threatened to throw The Weeknd into obscurity back in 2015. Though all these artists do partly owe Drizzy for their fame, it seems to be a somewhat thorny crown to bear. The promos released for Jahron’s latest album ‘PARTYNEXTDOOR 3’ were engaging and unique, yet the majority of people expressed an anticipation for Drizzy’s feature, and would not step foot outside of their house, let alone look at what was going on next door, unless Drake’s name was nailed to the wood.
From the very start, PARTYNEXTDOOR begins to try and pull away from the crowd with his first song ‘High Hopes’, with juddering, reverb-addled samples that beg for Burial-esque percussion and huge bass drums that break through his usual subdued and ethereal instrumentation. His vocals are largely unpredictable and travel eerily around the landscape of the song. An unquestionably murky landscape, the bass hums somewhere in the distance and short waves of melody float above the heavy percussion. It is certainly a juxtaposition to Alternative R & B’s usually simple structure and aesthetic, instead of being in the club, popping bottles of patron, we have been dropped somewhere outside of town altogether, where sirens sound sporadically. But it is an exciting place to be, and reminds us why this genre of music continues to progress and dominate record sales and musical news media, you even expect to see Drake wading through the swampy mulch of the song, picking and choosing his favourite bits to take home and try on for size. The song is much more confident than his last two attempts at album introductions; his first, very much shaky and unsure of itself, and his second lightly grazing its mark, the introduction to his third album stands a massive 4 minutes longer than either. The confidence that his past albums lacked is apparent, and sounds as if it could last the whole 16 tracks.
We are greeted with a bout of unfortunate lyrics at the start of 2nd cut ‘Don’t Run’, in which Jahron remarks that the girl he is talking to is going ham despite the fact that she is vegan. This lyrical clanger is nothing out of the ordinary, as those over at OVO seem to be suckers for the odd ridiculous lyric or two, and it does not take away from the beautiful production that accompanies his vocals. The throbbing arpeggiated synth is restrained perfectly by the heavy, overbearing bass that controls the momentum of the track. Here PND falls comfortably into the format of a more predictable structure, the song flows well. Though the production is so good, that it threatens to drag Jahron’s lyrics into the aether, and though this is very much a prominent part of PND’s aesthetic, it causes confusion as to what we see the artistic project as; this particular track isn’t produced by Jahron himself and his vocals are probably the most forgettable part of the track. And as he does not particularly push himself as a producer, one can’t help but question why tracks such as this are included on such an album, but this is an example of the mixing pot that is modern music.
‘Nobody’ maintains the unique feel of the album. A piercingly pitch-shifted sample finds a home under the chirping hi-hat and disarming bass hits. Produced by PND himself, these are the songs that drive the album; he seems to have been able to establish an impressive production technique, in which his vocals are prominent enough for the song to be catchy and memorable, yet they still have that unique tinge that treats his tones and intonations like an instrument. Tracks that deserve to share in this praise include ‘Spiteful’ and ‘Temptations’, these tracks give the listener something to grab onto. Jahron’s voice and lyricism is allowed a prominence that, in their 3rd installment, they now deserve.
Drake turns up at the very end of the album on the track ‘Come and See Me’. The slightly detuned synth that accompanies both artists throughout the song is beautiful, unmistakably the doing of producer .40. It’s rising and falling against the percussion injects a comfortable lethargy into the track. And Jahron’s vocal hook is one of the most heartfelt moments on the album. Drake gradually takes over the hook after PND’s second verse and launches into his hotly anticipated feature. Besides his recently apparent fetish with cringey lyrics exemplified here in: ‘Could be standing in a field he still ain’t even in the field’ (yeurgh), the feature is pretty much what we can expect. His voice surfaces in such a way that you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to one of his tracks. His harmonies land beautifully on the instrumental and the two Canadian-born artist’s voices compliment eachother perfectly, truly one of the more beautiful tracks of the 16.
Some cuts from this album, however, miss their mark, among these are 4th track ‘Not Nice’, a track that flows with that borrowed afrobeat aesthetic that is most recently notable in tracks like Drake’s ‘Controlla’. PND’s take on it however is forgettable, the inflections do not suit Jahron’s usually uncalculated delivery, and the melody hits at too high a frequency to coax even a tapping of the foot. Another unmemorable track comes in the form of ‘1942’, it starts fairly promisingly, but as the beat drops out, Jahron makes his first of a hundred mentions of ‘1942 Tequila’, and proceeds to get stuck in an episode of fascination with the aforementioned spirit, in a hook that doesn’t quite sit right, and may lead some to understand why PND is responsible for penning so many amazing hits that we only come to know through artists adopting his lyrical work. The last track worth a mention in terms of lowlights is ‘Brown Skin’, crooked and dissonant steel drums give the track an off-kilter feel that is difficult to wrap ones ears around. This is not to say that these tracks do not have any redeeming features; however when the highlight tracks of this album can hit so hard, a clear disparity between the two piles begins to appear.
PARTYNEXTDOOR has produced a good album, though it has its lulls, on the whole it flows with a lot more confidence and clipped innovation then his last two installments. Nonetheless the main problem with this artistic project continues to cause discomfort upon listening. Why, if PARTYNEXTDOOR is capable of producing a 16-track album that can be seen as vibrant and largely impressive, is he unable to produce a billboard smash? ‘Come and See Me’ peaked on the Billboard chart at 88 and ‘Recognise’ has an extremely impressive Youtube count. Inarguably, with help from Drizzy, these are his only two tracks that have made a splash. Why has Jahron not been capable of holding his own in a hit track yet? Some may argue that his aesthetic is too ethereal for the clipped and regimented production trends of the charts. Or, maybe, PND takes more pleasure in composing albums that flow well, and is happy too peak out at the mainstream from behind his ultra-famous peer.
This PARTYNEXTDOOR article was written by Liam Murphy, a GIGsoup contributor