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Review: “Bryson Tiller re-envisions genre on self-titled album”

By Ashley Wang     4/9/24 11:47pm

Rating: ★★★½

Top Track: “CALYPSO”

Seasoned R&B singer Bryson Tiller has returned with his fourth studio album, a self-titled record that infuses cyberpunk aesthetics into both its visuals and its sound. On the eponymous album, Tiller, best known for hits like “Don’t” and “Exchange,” takes on the challenge of deconstructing his own artistic journey. “Bryson Tiller” is a multi-genre departure from Tiller’s comfort zone. It features pop, dancehall, neo-soul and drill elements next to his signature combination of hip hop and R&B. 

“Attention” is a sensual, slinky opener that evokes images of late-night musings on a penthouse balcony. Tiller’s impassioned vocals, backed by a simultaneously gritty and sparkling instrumental that seems to unfurl around him, set the tone for the rest of the album to follow. 

On “Persuasion,” a collaboration with singer-songwriter Victoria Monét, Monét’s talents are diluted with thick vocoder harmonies. Still, Tiller and Monét manage to create an infectious synergy on this track, which features flirtatious lyrical misdirection.

Tiller regrets letting a partner take advantage of his money on “Ciao!”. The artist employs his unique style of half-rapping, half-singing on this track over an energetic R&B-drill beat. 

Following the overstimulation of “Rich Boy,” “Random Access Memory [RAM]” (featuring sped-up vocals from Clara La San) soothes with its synthwave instrumental and tender reflections on loneliness. Given its vulnerability and propulsive Jersey club rhythms, “Random Access Memory [RAM]” is an ideal balance of old and new Tiller.

Tiller sing-raps about gratitude for his partner’s unconditional love on “No Thank You,” but the writing doesn’t do his message justice. “Find My Way” is an even worse culprit of this lyrical mediocrity. Tiller’s earnesty is out of place with lines in the chorus that sound AI-generated (“It's the way you vibe, it's the way you move / It's the things you do”).

The Kaytranada-produced “ÆON L U S T” offers melodic experimentation, with a dissonant instrumental pushing Tiller’s voice out of the spotlight. On an album that frequently lacks proper mixing and storytelling, “CALYPSO” finally picks up the slack. There’s an addictive confidence to Tiller’s delivery on “CALYPSO” as he recounts dancing with a former lover at a party in LA. 

Tiller takes his genre-blind approach too far on “Undertow,” which attempts to be a sentimental ballad. The song’s bluesy guitar is jarring and is in direct conflict with Tiller’s vocals, which are begging to be complemented with a gentler, 2000s R&B piano line instead.

“F4U,” which samples “Feenin’” by Jodeci, is a catchy track about becoming enamored with someone and no longer having eyes for anybody else. It’s a necessary palette cleanser to survive the lyrical and sonic atrocity that is “Assume the Position”—a peppy song that conflates sex and arrest while still somehow sounding like a Kidz Bop cover.

On “Whatever She Wants,” Tiller raps breezily over a Detroit beat about splurging on his girlfriend. Though the song has plenty of replay value, its place on the album tracklist (a bonus final track, following “Assume the Position”) is a misguided decision. Regardless of whether one interprets “Assume the Position” or “Whatever She Wants” as the last track, the album lacks narrative finality, which is notable considering its cyberpunk concept. 

Without a consistent soundscape or emotional undertone to tie together the record, “Bryson Tiller” often feels more like a playlist than a concept album. In his experimentation, Tiller sometimes excels, but he sacrifices cohesion.

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