Luke Pretty, the 25-year-old Canadian musician better known as Tennyson, has proven time and time again that pop music can be danceable, full of hooks, and also intelligent and sophisticated. With his earlier EPs – including Like This, Different Water, and Telescope – Tennyson crafted tracks that combined complex beats with playful, jittery melodies, like an Orange Milk Records artist aiming for pop stardom. This kind of blueprint served him well through these short-form releases. However, with Rot, Tennyson has unleashed a full-length debut that takes the best instincts of those earlier EPs and combines it into a rich, multi-layered masterpiece.
The production throughout Rot is exquisite – beats are booming, bits of synth melodies squiggle across the mix, and the various vocal effects are spacey and futuristic without ever seeming gimmicky or cliché. The opening “In My Head (Intro)” is a brief instrumental overture of weirdness and tends to belie the hooks and beats that follow. The single “Feelwitchu” is held together by an airtight funk beat, with Tennyson’s lyrics about a complicated relationship floating over the beautiful noise: “Whatever I say / Whatever I do is not enough for you / Wherever you go / Understand that I said what I wanted to.”
“Doors” continues along the same funky road but is imbued with a more soul-inflected flavor, as Tennyson’s electronic fussiness creates something like a slow jam from another planet. While Tennyson’s voice – with or without computerized treatment – is all over Rot, he hands vocal duties over to Rae Morris for the soaring “Slow Dance”, resulting in a nice bit of variety, even if it’s not needed. There’s such a rich tapestry of sonic earworms on the album that another voice is an embarrassment of riches.
Throughout Rot, Tennyson is always searching for more disparate elements to throw into the mix. “Get Gone”, with its chipmunk-like vocal sections, contains minor novelty elements, but acoustic bass runs intertwining with a typically sparse beat create a unique sonic landscape. The song structure throughout the album suggests someone – like Tennyson – with vast knowledge of various genres, but he seems more at home with densely structured but ultimately loveable pop music.
“Reallywanna” is probably the catchiest song on an extremely catchy record, the sort of irresistible banger that gets the whole place crowding the dancefloor – even if the relatively simple lyrics are so slathered in vocoder effects that to sing along with them seems an impossibility. The plot twist, by the way, occurs about three-quarters into the song when Tennyson decides to throw in a completely off-the-wall key change just because he can.
Contradictions abound on Rot – the skeletal, four-on-the-floor funk of “Iron”, for example, lives comfortably alongside the anthemic rock-tilted balladry of the anthemic closer, “Figure Eights”, but taken as a whole, the album falls into place with remarkable skill and consistency. Creating pop/funk masterpieces that you can dance to and also admire from a songwriting perspective can be very hard to come by. But it seems like Tennyson can do that stuff in his sleep.