THEY.’s latest album is sonically pleasant but the duo’s generic approach leaves a lot to be desired.
Like most genres, contemporary R&B has certain conventions and stylistic staples that have helped to shape the genre into what it is today. While these conventions work as a solid foundation for an artist’s music, adhering to them too much can be a risk, as that formulaic approach can lead to the music feeling redundant. Unfortunately, this is a problem that plagues Los Angeles-based R&B duo THEY.’s latest effort, The Amanda Tape.
The group, comprised of singer-songwriter Drew Love and producer Dante Jones, has aimed to create a focused and concise body of work, exploring relationships and the complications that come with them. Throughout the project’s 33-minute runtime, Love shares his personal musings and anecdotes pertaining to his experience with relationships, over instrumentals that Jones has carefully crafted to fit his voice.
At its best, this album perfectly showcases the duo’s chemistry and highlights the perfect marriage between Love’s airy yet soulful vocal delivery and Jones’ ‘90s and 2000s-infused production style. At its worst, it teeters the line between just fine and boringly generic. While there isn’t a song on here that stands out as terrible or far worse than the rest, there aren’t really any that clearly shine as the best of the bunch; it’s all very middle-of-the-pack.
The only moment on this record that comes remotely close to standing out is “Losing Focus,” and that’s mainly due to the fantastic contribution from D.C. rapper Wale. His verse on this record is incredibly poetic, witty and full of personality, and it serves as a reminder of just how at home his flow and delivery are when laid over smooth, laid-back R&B production.
Outside of that, this LP feels very formulaic and pretty generic, even if it is mostly enjoyable. Whether it be the vocal contributions or the production on a given track, there isn’t much here that couldn’t be found elsewhere, and it causes this album to lack its own unique personality.
While Jones’ production is consistently quite good, it doesn’t showcase any real individual flare. It mostly feels like he’s crafted instrumental collages from successful elements from ‘90s-2010s R&B. Aspects like the very Jagged Edge-esque acoustic strings on the Tinashe-assisted “Play Fight” or the Neptunes-inspired elements present on “Mood Swings” and “Losing Focus” are all very enjoyable throwbacks but they lack originality.
This is an issue when it comes to Love’s vocals too. While he has a great singing voice, and his presence is felt on every song here, his vocal style and delivery on this project aren’t very distinguishable from his contemporaries. It doesn’t take away from how great his singing is, it just doesn’t feel as captivating as it could, and that’s a sentiment that applies to the album as a whole.
Overall, The Amanda Tape is an enjoyable listen, but it’s bogged down by the musical influences that THEY. clearly wear on their sleeves. While they’re not mimicking or ripping off any one artist, the music presented on this LP lacks individuality and feels more like a synthesis of their favourite artists. Still, it’s a solid listen and a solid foundation for where the duo can go next.
Trial Track: “Losing Focus” feat. Wale