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Louis Cole - Time Music Album Reviews

Drummer Louis Cole’s sidelong blend of hard funk and soft pop—aided by guest spots from Thundercat and Brad Mehldau—remains delightfully sly and off-kilter.

The mark of a great chord progression is a peculiar mixture of surprise and inevitability. On first listen, you find yourself confused by the way that one chord follows another, refusing to follow the well-trodden path: jumping when they should step and bounding when they should glide. Eventually, once the song has burned itself into your brain—once its course has remapped your own neural pathways—you’ll have trouble imagining a world where these curious patterns didn’t exist. But even then, even after no matter how many plays, that harmonic dodge-and-feint will still produce the tiniest frisson of wrongness. It’s among the sweetest dopamine hits that music is capable of producing.

Louis Cole’s instrument of choice is the drums, but he definitely knows his way around a killer set of changes. Time, his third album, is brimming with strange, counterintuitive progressions—chords that seem to slip sideways, tumbling into one another, jostling and pivoting just when you don’t expect. An unusual mixture of hard funk and soft pop, like Zapp and Burt Bacharach stuck in an elevator together, Cole's is a sly, jubilant sound; it makes good use of the way funk also thrives upon a sense of wrongness, a screw-faced delight at things gone awry.

Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label turns out to be a good home for Cole’s music. A falsetto singer and secret sentimentalist, he doesn’t often sound much like his labelmates, even if he has played with Thundercat, who returns the favor here on “Tunnels in the Air”; Dennis Hamm, Thundercat’s live keyboardist, also turns up, laying down a ripping piano solo on “Trying Not to Die.” But Cole’s gently twisted perspective fits FlyLo’s mischievous M.O. He’s got a squirrelly sense of humor and a barely veiled obsession with death. This is a guy who, seven years ago, in his early days of uploading DIY videos to YouTube, paired a lovely, sentimental instrumental called “Clouds” with stock footage of nuclear bombs going off. At times, he’s come dangerously close to looking like a novelty artist: His biggest viral hit to date is a lo-fi video—both the graphics and his getup could easily be mistaken for a cable-access leftover from the mid-1980s—called “Bank Account” in which he films himself in split screen, playing keys and drums, and singing, in his frictionless coo, “I don’t want to check my bank account.”

On Time, his off-kilter demeanor takes many forms. Album opener “Weird Part of the Night” is a charging squelch-fest sung in celebration of the workaholic night owl. The uptempo “Freaky Times” tackles a tried-and-tested trope, the sex jam loaded with double entendres, while indulging in both the silly (“Fantasies in my pantasies,” goes the refrain) and the bizarre (“Softer than a corpse whisper,” goes one of his come-ons). “When You’re Ugly,” the album’s crisp funky second song, contains the immortal advice: “When you’re ugly/No one wants to talk to you/When you’re ugly, there is something you can do, called/Fuck the world and be real cool.” Some of his gags are strictly musical: “After the Load Is Blown,” a bruised, end-of-the-relationship slow jam, just goes ahead and quotes Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”

But many of the album’s most powerful moments come when the grin slips. You can hear it in the feather-light touches of “A Little Bit More Time,” a deathbed plea set to a 1960s easy-listening pastiche; you can hear it in “Real Life,” in which Coles’ bruising drum work squares off against a lightning-like solo from jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, all of it soothed by one of the album’s downiest choruses. And you can especially hear it in the record’s many ballads, like “Everytime,” a middle-school slow-dance number par excellence, or “Phone,” a gorgeous love song featuring some of the album’s most delightful chord changes, or the closing “Night,” another mortality-obsessed song in which he imagines remembering, in his last moments alive, a nighttime drive with his lover. For a guy who loves him some rascally grooves, there’s something almost shockingly unguarded about these witching-hour ruminations. Just as he doesn’t fake the funk, he doesn’t fake his feelings, either. As his sidelong chord changes suggest, he’s led primarily by his own weird muse.

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