Sunday, February 4, 2018

Francis & The Lights - Just For Us Review

Ah, the ever-elusive surprise release. An event, this time around, made even more rare by the not-so popular name attached to it. Unannounced album drops are easy for established artists, like Kanye West, Beyonce, or Kendrick Lamar, as their fans create the hype and promote the occasion themselves. However, Francis & The Lights is no A-list star. With that being the case, risk certified, Francis' best bet was to go all or nothing. Rather than tilt his narrative by proving naysayers wrong, the singer best known for collaborating with Kanye West and Bon Iver on 'Friends' seeps further into triviality by releasing a meager 27-minute project of illformed, and seemingly incomplete ideas. With the abundance of new releases at a listeners' fingertips, someone whose been grappling for the limelight for well over a decade needs to do better than that. Just For Us is a project for Francis and his small, but committed followers. If cosigns from Kanye West and Justin Vernon failed to garner much of an audience, ten unassuming Indie and Synthpop ballads won't soon do the trick.

With all that said, Francis' style is still one that's quite original. Even though his contemporaries, like Son Lux, James Blake, even The Social Experiment, sit comfortably in his niche of sleek, refined, and colorful synth-driven R&B, the moment a Francis song plays, like any number on Just For Us, you know it's him. Problem being, more often than not, what Francis gains in sugary sweet production (see opener 'Morning') he loses in transparent lyrics that evoke limited imagery while sounded dated at the same time. This can best be seen on 'Back In Time' and 'Never Back,' two tracks that act as part one and two to each other, using the weak and simplistic concept of time as the linkage. Rather than toil over more interesting dialogue, Francis resorts to stating that you "can't go back in time cause that's not the way time moves." You don't say? Much of Just For Us' romantic spooling's unravel as such, including the mushy 'I Won't Lie To You' and the corny 'Breaking Up,' a track that uses, perhaps cleverly, a phone disconnect as the breaking point of a failed relationship. The general problem with all of these concepts however is that they've been tried and tested ages on end. Lyrically speaking, Francis brings even less to the table than his 2016 LP Farewell, Starlite!

That's half of where Just For Us' partiality emerges. There's just no depth to his words. They're baseline material for a romantic endeavor that happens in poorly-executed, and eagerly churned out, Romcoms. The other half is the production, although in this regard I'm less harsh. Francis' minimalistic style has always sounded unfinished. Through a certain lens, that's exactly the unique draw. Here though, with such short track lengths (seven tracks are under three minutes), the structuring never once builds to something meaningful. Each piece acts as an unfinished sketch, lacking the necessary ingredients to make it special. The highest achievements, like 'Morning' or 'Never Back,' earn a cute grin as the sensory deprivation, mixed with the jittery piano, draw comparisons to D.R.A.M., of all people. Just For Us' finale, 'Cruise,' is really the only track that feels fully realized. Partly for its length, but mainly for its decision to build upon that which begins it. Unfortunately, the combination of Francis' tone-deaf autotune and abysmal lyrics ("and they may say it's not for children / of course it is!") greatly diminishes 'Cruise's' potential worth. A fitting statement to the entirety of Just For Us. It's a cutesy album that'll barely register, if at all, in the grand scheme of modern R&B.


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