An Infinitely Large Circle With No Center
Dwele, I want to love your music, I really do. There are so many other avant-soul people on my list of favorites from Saint Erykah and the Roots and Dilla all the way to Georgia Anne Muldrow and Maxwell and D’Angelo. Hell, I’ve even been known to spend money on a Raheem DeVaughan album, so you KNOW I’m not afraid to risk having my heart broken. (For what it’s worth, I’ll still rep for The Love and War MasterPiece even though I know it’s the corniest album I own.)
Dwele creates deconstructed r&b in the same basic way these others do, choosing from hip-hop and electronica and pop and dub and soul music like the world is a big smorgasbord ... which of course it is. But he does so in a very particular way; he circles all around his hooks rather than hitting them head-on, and alternates his street-smart Detroit upbringing with softer quiet-storm sentiments. His beats rarely thump, because he seems to think thumping beats are fascist.
This approach is in full effect on Greater Than One. We had advance notice, with lead single “What Profit”. It’s built around a simple rhythm and a simple idea: flipping a Biblical phrase to make it personal: “What profit a man / To gain the whole wide world / And lose his girl?” But Dwele can’t help himself – he has to multitrack himself into a polyphonic call-and-response choir, he has to add swooshing noises and prog synthesizers, he has to do a little homily against material things. It’s probably his most straight-ahead single in a long time ... and it’s still all over the place. I mean, I like it very much, but I can understand why it wasn’t a hit. This is not an age for subtlety.
This happens over and over here. Instead of just sangin’, Dwele splits his lovely tenor voice into two or five or 12 different strands, all of them spiraling off into echoes and treatments until it’s very hard to follow along. This works well on some tracks; for example, the multiple voices actually help explain his confusion on the endearing Prince pastiche “Love Triangle.” (Extra points for the meta-fictional touch here, only revealed in the last line of the song!) On the other hand, all these creepy Dweles come together to become terrifying on the S&M-themed “Obey.”
There are certainly missteps here – I don’t much care for “Patrick Ronald”, a blatant attempt to rep a certain brand of liquor (check the first syllable of each name) that is neither witty nor effective. But most of the songs here are at least fun and interesting, and occasionally quite amazing. “Must Be” is a great club track with great contributions from Black Milk and a good little bounce to it. Sadly, it remains just a little bounce, rather than a big one.
Because if I have any recommendations here, I think Dwele is a talented musician who is just not his own best producer. He needs someone who will push him a little harder, make his nice ideas into major ones. Otherwise, he’ll continue to go along in this mode for a while, coming up with interesting ideas but just never quite breaking through. And that would be a shame.
// Notes from the Road
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