(Stones Throw Records – March 3, 2015)
(R&B, Soul, Electronic)
Review by Brandon Foster
It took a minute to get to this point in time where Tuxedo could release their self-titled debut album in this musical realm. By the middle of the 2000s, funk in contemporary music had faded. Dr. Dre focusing on headphones, D’Angelo’s drifting into oblivion for nearly 15 years, and OutKast pretty much being done; there were no torch bearers to carry the funk to the future. Over the years, we have drifted more into standard pop melodies with electro infusions. But since 2013, the funk is making a comeback. Most notabley, Tuxedo’s Stones Throw contemporary Dam-Funk. His joint album with Snoop Dogg “7 Days of Funk,” to say nothing of his extensive solo material, was a definite highlight of 2013. In the same year, electronica revolutionaries Daft Punk took their futuristic sound and put it in a disco and funk time capsule with “Random Access Memories”. After the release of these two albums, there is a gradual incline. The funky prodigal son D’Angelo came back in our consciousness late last year and dropped a damn near long lost Parliament/Funkadelic, Prince, and Sly and The Family Stone album in “Black Messiah”. The momentum of D’Angelo’s album carried us into this year with two more releases dripping in funk influences with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Special” and the most polarizing album of the year so far “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar.
All of these releases lead us to the funky white boys Tuxedo. One half of this group is made up of the Ann Arbor new age Renaissance man Mayer Hawthorne. Hawthorne has to be one of the most talented musicians over the past 5 years that no one regularly talks about.. He raps, deejays, engineers, plays multiple instruments and produces. But what Hawthorne is best at doing is belting out those soul tunes on wax. The other half of the group is made up of one of the most prolific hip-hop producers of the past 5 years, Jake One (Rick Ross’ “3 Kings” and Drake’s “Furthest Thing”).
The album flows like an epic night out on the town. “Lost Lover” sounds like the love child of Loose Ends and The Commodores. A pregame joint before it’s time to go out. There is something very throwback to Jake and Hawthorne’s style, as in the truly funk and dance roots number “R U Ready.” The segue into “Watch The Dance” is pretty flawless. While providing similar feels and looks for the first two tracks, a new area of funk is explored that is more reminiscent of Slave. It is a straight dance floor exhibition. The exhibition continues on “So Good”. Hawthorne talks about getting enough of that magic touch over Jake’s high synths and clapping drum patterns.
After having all that fun on the dance floor, you remember you left your significant other at home. Out and partying, you meet somebody fine as hell that makes you think bad thoughts. Those thoughts and scenarios play out in “Two Wrongs” where Hawthorne seems to be in full deliberation mode in his inner self about whether he should do the right or wrong thing. The slow sensual groove is intoxicating. Then towards the end of the song, Hawthorne lets his guitar cry.
After a brief instrumental interlude (“Tuxedo’s Groove”), Tuxedo continues the pace of dance floor to the bedroom and vice versa. While the sound stays coherent, there are little intricacies where you can tell the differences between movements. “The Right Time” seems to be a gumbo pot of sounds with at least three different synths going on at one time. “Roll Along” starts out with this thumping bass that is almost reminiscent of the Talking Heads “Take Me To The River”. It has a cool new wave feel, but remains soulful. “Get U Home” is closer to what most Hawthorne fans are used to. This is just him belting out them soulful blue eyed tunes and this is the first time on the album where he really croons and gets on his D’Angelo or Maxwell steez.
The last two tracks serve as the perfect climax for the album. “Do It” is the new weekend anthem. A tingle from your head to your toes will happen. The album closer is where things really take a turn. Just when you think they can’t impress you more, Tuxedo reworks the romantical masterpiece from Snoop Dogg “It Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None)” for “Number One”.
While Hawthorne and Jake One do not part the Red Sea, they really do not need to. You don’t necessarily have to be avant-garde for every release to be great. What Tuxedo has done is make the music they want to, and in doing so, created one of the best albums of the year. The album clocks a little over 45 minutes. Short, sweet, and does the job. This album is a true throwback to those days of dancefloor funk and dance music of the late 70s and 80s. While it is a throwback, it still works perfect in the present and for the future. Whoever sequenced the album deserves a pat on the back. It flows like Niagara Falls. If you have some friends over to your crib, throw this on. About ready to head to the club, throw this on. About to head over to his crib, throw this on. About to head over to her crib, throw this on. “Tuxedo” is the ultimate feel good album of 2015 thus far. This is that old school summer cook out music, get on it.