Friday, June 13, 2008

N.E.R.D. "Seeing Sounds" - The Beat-down

I missed N.E.R.D. open up for Kanye last week, so I just have to imagine that they were as good as I've seen them the past two times. Listening to their new album, “Seeing Sounds,” I'm still pretty bummed out about skipping their spot (even though my sister's graduation was kind of sort of an important deal).

N.E.R.D. could easily be one of the world's most indulgent vanity projects, thanks to the mega-multi-platinum success of its founders, The Neptunes Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (along with "frontman" Shay). But the band's music has been so far left of the production team's signature sound that it's become a nice outlet for the pair to explore new sonic frontiers.

"Seeing Sounds" finds them doing just that and taking the listener along for the ride. The singles "Everybody Nose" and the irresistible "Spaz" have become commercial staples (the latter is my favorite Zune commercial of all time). Both songs mix frantic break beat drums that veer into jungle/drum n' bass territory, the energy reaching furious crescendos.

Other songs venture boldly into alt-rock land. “Happy” is true to its namesake, with Pharrell giving a shiny, joyous ode to post-breakup glum, siren guitar riffs and pop melodies falling into place along the way. “Anti-Matter” is “Check Your Head”-era Beastie Boys synth punk, with its chopped and screwed hook/chorus serving as a kick-ass proclamation.

Through it all, Williams and Hugo and Co. pull from all different contemporary styles and sounds, making for a compelling mix. It's the ease with which they sashay through their set without leaning too heavily on one sound that gives the album its merit.

The age of music hybrid has reached near formulaic levels, but N.E.R.D. have managed to stay ahead of the curve with each release. “Seeing Sounds” lives up to its name in that it could have the audience tripping out and visualizing the beats the band has produced.

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