Review Summary: An exquisitely catchy and flirtatious affair with modern soul.
I can’t think of a more difficult venture than trying to release a falsetto-laden R&B album this year. Not because there isn’t room for such music in the current music landscape, because there clearly is, but rather due to the colossal Justin Timberlake release(s) that are currently the landmark for such excursions. So when putting Mayer Hawthorne’s new LP under scrutiny, its logical (and unfortunate) that the first place your mind moves is towards Mr. Timberlake. Doing so ignores the strengths of Hawthorne’s songwriting and loses what makes this album stand out along side his contemporaries. While JT created a soundscape of diversity throughout his The 20/20 Experience
, Hawthorne hones in and tightens his soul jams and lets his vocal prowess do the heavy lifting on Where Does This Door Go
The album starts off strong with “Back Seat Lover” delivering us soulful electric piano stuttering along with the up-tempo drum beat, calming the way for Mayer Hawthorne’s seductive voice. It’s a bait and switch performed impeccably throughout the album; a lounge-esque backdrop to bring you down before decidedly sexy and powerful vocals pull you right back out of your shell. “Allie Jones” introduces small sampling/looping into the mix, but doesn’t change this essential calming feel that Hawthorne is striving to encapsulate throughout the album. The end product is not influence heavy either, staying away from the standard soul/R&B traps that could really bog down the sound, instead striving for clean, extremely modern stylings that are markedly different from Hawthorne’s previous outings.
Lyrically it is much of what you would expect from any contemporary soul artist, with lost love, club love, young love, and loving life all receiving equal time spent in the spotlight. “Her Favorite Song” tells the story of a love-torn woman getting drunk at the bar only to go back home alone where “she listens to her favorite song and fades away”. Not the deepest sentiment, but with Hawthorne’s knack for emotional delivery, it gains a weight beyond the sum of the words. Similarly, the album winner “Crime” springs to life with a middle-eastern feel before we hear Hawthorne questioning why the police have to ruin their partying. It’s obvious and shallow, but damn it if you don’t feel bad for him as he croons “it’s a crime” into the night. Then when Kendrick Lamar shows up and (reliably) steals the show with a stellar verse, the excellence of Hawthorne’s refrain is ushered back in again with a newfound grounded sensibility.
The emotional resonance that Mayer Hawthorne conjures here isn’t at all like the trippy rollercoaster rides that Justin Timberlake threw us through earlier this year. And that’s fine. Awkward interludes aside, Hawthorne attempts to extract more from each note that leaves his lips than JT does, and we get a much different experience for the effort. While it may not be the most diverse outing and each chorus doesn’t transform and amalgamate several hundred times before seeing its way to the door, Where Does This Door Go
is an exquisitely catchy and flirtatious affair with modern soul.