Theophilus London has a name begging to be changed, one that in a different era, in a different subset of rap, might have suffered the same fate that turned Cordozar Broadus into Snoop Dogg or Carlton Ridenhour into Chuck D. But the geeky eccentricity of this namesake fits perfectly into the musician’s faux-cerebral image, shaped from chunky-chic glasses, leather biker jackets, and throwback caps. It’s an asset that sets him apart both from harsher rappers and less-modish purveyors of the smooth, dance-influenced electronica he mines, something he acknowledges on opener “Last Name London,” an ‘80s-style intro track that’s equally about his name and the cool signifiers that shape his image.
The invocation of bistro meals and Cole Haan shoes, with asides about women stripping for him over Skype, sets London’s Timez Are Weird These Days at a nexus of trendiness and harmless sexuality. It may seem pointless to note how calculated his image is (what musician’s isn’t?), but it’s worth mentioning that his vying for worldly-entertainer status feels as deliberate a pose as harder rappers’ angling toward street-cred. In reality, London represents a stylistic bridge between the sensitive mush of rappers like Drake and Kid Cudi and dim party animals like Wiz Khalifa. His is low-wattage, technically simplistic rap, venal and flashy, but with a continued sense of self-awareness, and at least a modicum of intelligence.
Containing four of the five songs from February’s Lovers Holiday EP (the set mysteriously omits the silky Solange Knowles collaboration “Flying Overseas”), Timez Are Weird These Days finds London equipped with equally strong production, but only one additional guest artist (Jealous Girlfriends singer Holly Miranda). He’s thus left to do most of the work himself, and it’s impressive that, despite the brittleness of these tracks and the thinness of his lyrics, he makes it work. A lot of the album’s success is owed to the backing, which is fizzy and danceable but not ridiculous, settling into an admirable stop-start groove on tracks like “Wine and Chocolates.” This isn’t a groundbreaking formula, but it proves to be a steady one, and there isn’t a dud to be found on the album.
At times, London ventures into weirdness, with a monotone sing-talk style that resembles Kyp Malone’s of TV on the Radio. Generally he’s much more restrained, an urbane lover-man with a reasonable talent for words, and this approach suits him. Standouts like “Why Even Try,” a holdover from Lovers’ Holiday (featuring an unrecognizable Sara Quin from Tegan & Sara), are enjoyable fluff aspiring to be more, with an odd air of hopelessness that seems divorced from the slinky beat and dreamy chimes. Packed with these kinds of gently clashing songs, Timez Are Hard These Days is low-culture pulp with an unrealistic sense of its own sophistication. Yet thanks to the overall caliber of the material, it ends up being pretty convincing.