2008’s perfect sit-on-the-patio, sip-on-umbrella-drinks, relax-and-chill record is finally here. N.E.R.D.’s phenomenal Seeing Sounds is a sugary breeze from start to finish. The alt-rock sounds of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shae Haley are simply un-fucking-stoppable on this return to the N.E.R.D. sound.
Their first splash in the pool since 2004’s cool Fly or Die, Seeing Sounds is alternative music for the funky people of the world. Elements of sweet soul, deep blues, hip-hop, and contagiously groovy pop music meld and melt together in this sticky mash-up.
When rappers and singers go to Williams and Hugo as The Neptunes, they want hits and they get hits. So when the producers pop back to their own headspace and into N.E.R.D., they use it as a front for all of the leftover concepts, bold ideas, and elements that wouldn’t normally be set aside for the type of hit-making production expected of The Neps.
With the scraps of rejected ideas and musical concepts, N.E.R.D. puts together magical tracks that refuse to sit still and be tied up in one genre. And on Seeing Sounds, the leftover scraps come together for an expressive yet hectic funk rock record.
The album title was apparently inspired by the neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia. A “phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway,” synesthesia often results in strange occurrences such as the assigning of colours to letters or numbers (this is known as grapheme). And so it is with Seeing Sounds.
N.E.R.D. then worked to assign visuals to each sound they produced, allowing tracks like “Spaz” to become monstrous and deadly. Driven by classic drum-and-bass, “Spaz” almost unfolds like Donkey Kong dropping barrels on a rushing Mario on the quest to save that hottie princess from certain doom.
Williams and Co. roll things out that way throughout the seamlessly-produced record, but they never abandon sheer funkiness for pompous sound-making. The glorious riffs found on “Windows” are offset by old school handclaps and backing vocals, making for a surefire hit. And the terrifically paced and written “Love Bomb” is just amazing with its throwback quality and irresistible vocal cock-ups.
Yes indeed, N.E.R.D. has created a beautiful album that deserves to be seen as much as it deserves to be heard. The group uses rock, hip-hop, and ridiculous funk as a sort of unruly spinning paintbrush, allowing splotches of various styles and genres to splatter all over each track at seemingly random intervals. The results are vibrant, as Seeing Sounds would have it, and absolutely overwhelming. Get this one. Get it twice.