What if Frank Ocean just scrapped virtually everything he’d been working on for the past four years? What if he just released whatever he’d managed to cobble together in the last two weeks? Would any of us complain? Sometimes, when musicians have the tendency to obsessively labor for years over their work, the best thing they can do is just say “fuck it” and start from scratch. That’s essentially what Dr. Dre did last year, when he finally decided Detox had been taking up his energies for too long and he just released the relative-quickie Compton instead. That worked out well! Compton was a good album! And while nobody thinks of Chicago R&B smoothie Jeremih along those sonic-auteur lines, he’s got a similar tendency to get in his own way, laboring over a new album for way too long. By the time last year’s great Late Nights: The Album came out, “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” its biggest hit, sounded like something you might hear at a throwback dance night. And this wasn’t entirely the fault of Def Jam, Jeremih’s label, even if Def Jam did spectacularly bungle the album’s release. It was Jeremih’s fault, too, if “fault” is even the right word. Jeremih didn’t want to release the album until he felt like it was ready. That took time.
Quietly, the time paid off. Since its release, Late Nights has yielded sneaky hits like “Oui” and “Impatient,” suggesting that all those months in the studio were actually time well-spent. It’s an album with staying power. Still it’s a total blast to hear what Jeremih can do when he’s in sprinting-productivity mode, and that’s what the new Late Nights: Europe mixtape is. Jeremih and the producer Soundz knocked the album out in a few weeks, based on a half-assed idea of celebrating all the time Jeremih had been spending abroad. And it’s not even a fully realized idea. Most of the songs on Late Nights: Europe are named after the cities in Europe (or Dubai or Lebanon — close enough). But while a track like “London” features UK rappers and a pulsing house sounds, the only song that’s really about its namesake location is the tape-ending, Chicago-celebrating “The Crib.” The songs on the new tape aren’t as fleshed-out as the ones on the album, and I don’t think there are any sneaky hits-in-waiting here (though Jeremih has always proven surprising on that score). Still, it’s a smooth, polished, confident mixtape, a testament to how fluid and flexible Jeremih can be when he’s freed up from his major-label-artist responsibilities.
Now: Jeremih isn’t exactly reinventing his sound with this thing. These songs aren’t about travel or intra-European political tangles or anything like that. They’re about sex, which should not surprise anyone who’s ever heard a single minute of a single Jeremih song. They’re so much about sex, in fact, that Jeremih ends one song with an extended spoken-word piece from a woman who wants to “feel that dick.” The guest appearances, from rappers like Wiz Khalifa and K Camp, are mostly pretty bad, and the only moment that really sticks with me is the Game complaining about threesomes: “You know how them threesomes go / Give one that long dick / Other one looking with the side-eye like ‘Nigga, you fucking with the wrong bitch.’” (The Game’s problems are not really problems, per se.) The songs, compared to the album, are sketches and doodles. And yet there’s a real beauty to this collection of dark, glimmering 3AM fuck-songs, mostly because Jeremih is fully and completely in his element.
Jeremih’s voice is perfect for song-sketches like these. He’s so smooth and malleable, and he has such complete control of rhythm and meter. He skates over these beats, and it often sounds like he’s rapping even when he’s not. He’s a great fit for the producer Soundz, too, whose sound is an airy neon-gas glow. The best of these tracks, “Belgium (Get Down)” in particular, nod toward the heart-murmur jitter-beats of Chicago juke music without ever fully diving into that sound. And beats like those, songs that patter in circles when they could do the usual jackhammer-pound thing, would be too much for almost every singer. For Jeremih, they’re second-nature. He just floats over them. And in its own low-stakes way, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Last week, I watched Jeremih play a messy, likable set at the Pitchfork Music Festival, the type of setting where you could tell he hasn’t been spending much time. I don’t think Jeremih plays many shows. He has a band, but they’re a bit clumsy and stagey, and he always ends up singing over recordings of his own voice anyway. He has a DJ who plays other people’s hits before and after Jeremih performs, like he’s worried people wouldn’t get hype enough otherwise. He sticks with hits only, no album tracks, even if that means he’s playing the EDM tracks with his guest-vocals to a cool-kid festival crowd that has no time for that stuff. He has two dancers who were really just distractions. Compared to Miguel, who performed immediately afterward and who tours hard enough to have a smooth and perfectionist live show, Jeremih came off looking like a bit of an amateur. But his set worked anyway, mostly because Jeremih seemed at home in the chaos — dancing with his mom, sitting down at a keyboard for “Birthday Sex,” welcoming a Chance The Rapper guest-spot that utterly overwhelmed his own set. He was unflappable in the face of a hometown crowd that still could’ve turned on him. That same confidence is what animates Late Nights: Europe, what makes it sound like something more than the quickie mixtape that comes just months after the long-gestating album. And if Jeremih can translate that same off-the-cuff creativity into a slicker, more considered full-length, he’ll really have something.
Late Nights: Europe is out now. Stream it below, and download it for free at DatPiff.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Descendents’ grand, grizzled pop-punk return Hypercaffium Spazzinate.
• DJ Khaled’s all-star triumph-rap compilation Major Key.
• Owen’s rootsy, personal emo reverie The King Of Whys.
• The Bouncing Souls’ satisfyingly frill-free punk rocker Simplicity.
• D Generation’s New York rock return Nothing Is Anywhere.
• Trim’s haunted grime stress-out 1-800 DINOSAUR Presents Trim.
• Ringworm’s thrashcore apocalypse Snake Church.
• Ben Chatwin’s electronic-classical exploration Heat & Entropy.
• Iji’s dreamy, impressionistic Bubble.
• For Everest’s seething debut We Are At Home In The Body.
• Cool American’s ’90s-style emo exorcism You Can Win A Few.
• Foozle’s scrappy DIY pop-punker Romantic Comedies.
• Titus Andronicus’ live album [email protected] Rock: Five Nights at the Opera.
• Adam Olenius’ Looking Forward To The New Me EP.
• Adam Remnant’s When I Was A Boy EP.
• Jordaan Mason’s form less cassette.