Album Reviews

N*E*R*D – Seeing Sounds

(Polydor) UK release date: 8 June 2008

N*E*R*D - Seeing Sounds Great producers rarely make the leap to become great performers. For every successful Kanye West, there are a dozen other beatmakers who thought they could hop on the mic. The cinematic equivalent would have Steven Spielberg picking up the whip to star in the latest Indiana Jones. It just doesn’t happen that often.

Even so, as dynamic duo Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo (a.k.a. The Neptunes) gained success in the late ’90s by producing singles for other artists, they naturally wanted to gain more recognition. In 2002, they adopted the name N*E*R*D (“No one Ever Really Dies”) and decided to release a full length production of their own songs. But soon after finishing their first album, In Search Of…, Williams, Hugo, and vocalist Shay Hayley realised that in order to bring in more recognition, they should differentiate their band sound from that of their production career.

The trio then formed a short-lived alliance with Spymob, crafting a traditional rock band sound that took N*E*R*D one step away from the digital hip-hop productions that The Neptunes were known for. Now, after two albums and a bit of a break, N*E*R*D are back with Seeing Sounds, a wonderful hodge-podge of genres that focuses on a theme of synaesthesia.

For the uninformed, synaesthesia is a cross-sensory phenomenon, where, for example, some people associate colors with numbers or, in this case, experience visual representations of sounds. In essence, it’s what every great writer (music journalists included) strives to do through their prose – paint a picture of a scene, or put into words the sounds of a band. And the far-reaching, almost spastic incorporation of genres on Seeing Sounds certainly reflects this theme – it’s as if N*E*R*D can reproduce every visual entity in the world through their music.

The first half of the album explodes from the starting line, jumping from the funky Time For Some Action to the club banger Everyone Nose and then off to the indie dance guitar-rock of Windows. The energy never lets up, and it’s evident that N*E*R*D had a lot of fun crafting these songs. Williams sounds like he’s having a blast as he comments on the nose-candy club scene in Everyone Nose, wards of a groupie stalker in Yeah You, and yearns for a universal spirituality on Love Bomb.

The ease with which N*E*R*D parse hip-hop, R&B;, rock, dance, and electronica for sounds to use in their band may sound unfocused to some. But it all comes down to how you want to view Seeing Sounds. If you’re looking to accept it into or reject it from the hip-hop or rap-rock canon, you’ll think that it “jumps around like it’s ADHD” (to borrow a line from Anti Matter).

If you’re willing to give it an honest listen, you’ll notice some fresh ideas sprouting from a diversity of genres, even if it can appear to be a bit unfocused at times.

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N*E*R*D – Seeing Sounds
N*E*R*D – Fly Or Die