Both catchy and cliché, this electro-jazz album flirts with hip-hop and R&B for a diverse, but ultimately lacking, listen.
The story goes that French trio Outlines began working on its debut, Our Lives Are Too Short, a few years ago. Irfane, who crafts the beats and also sings, met producer Jerome Hadey when they were in their teens. The last piece of the puzzle was the group's artwork designer, Jay1, a graffiti artist who used to empty spray cans with Irfane. Growing tired of tagging and run-ins with the law, Irfane used his hands to spin records in French clubs before ultimately settling down to produce his own music. He and Hadey still DJ, but Outlines comes first.
As the trio's pastimes would lead you to assume, Our Lives Are Too Short plays like a smooth, though somewhat dull, cocktail of electro-jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. There is also a hint of break-beat here and there, as some tracks feature segues of stuttering drums and vocal samples. A comparison to Daft Punk could be in order, but Outlines' sound is less focused and refined. The music here is also more hip-hop oriented, proven by the album's guests, who work as a means of diversifying a somewhat mundane offering.
In particular, the already excellent -- and primary stand-out -- "Now That I'm Free" is only made stronger through the always experimenting RZA's fitting verse. Normally, his sometimes awkward flow can be distracting. On this track, however, Bobby Digital's over-enunciation suits the irresistible beat perfectly. Perhaps this was the Wu member's payback to Hadey, who worked with RZA in the past. It doesn't hurt that this track, especially the instrumentation, is reminiscent of "Free" off of Pharoahe Monch's criminally overlooked and fantastic Desire.
Much of the same praise can be said for the two tracks featuring emcee Beat Assailant, who has opened for the likes of Kanye West and DJ Premier. Assailant's smooth rapping nearly saves "Show Me", but the corny chorus, featuring the lines ""Gotta get up if you're a baller / Gotta get up and stand taller", is too much. Assailant sounds just as confident on the funky and soulful "Waiting in Line", which has the song's protagonist sitting on death row. The concept of a corrupt society leading to one's imprisonment is nothing new, but it works here.
When it comes to the remaining 12 songs, everything just blends together. Sure, the album is cohesive and that's probably worth something. But when you have little to nothing invested in 80 percent of the record, it's difficult to let the highs outweigh the lows. A large part of the problem is the fact that Irfane's vocals and lyrics are tepid and abecedarian, respectively.
While the fact that he's not singing and writing in his native tongue can draw some sympathy, the lyrics can be so cliché it hurts. It would be pointless to give you a sampling of them all, so here's an example from the title-track: "Our lives are too short, remember / Be strong and never surrender". I am all for positivity, but come on. Other lyrical and musical blunders include "Too Much to Ask", which plays like a corny Jamiroquai b-side.
By the time Our Lives Are Too Short's 55 minutes are up, you're left with mediocrity sprinkled with moments of catchy brilliance. Your hand or foot is tapping along, but your mind is numbed by the lackluster vocals and repetitive beats. With a new singer and a little more variation, however, Outlines could truly create something noteworthy.