Miguel - Art Dealer Chic (Vol. 1, 2, & 3)

Art Dealer Chic, Miguel
Rating: 82
by Andrew Casillas

It’s not every day that Club Fonograma gets to review a full-bodied R&B album. But when we do, we take our damn time. Of course, when the record is as good as the collection of three EPs released this spring by Mexican American loverboy Miguel, you could be forgiven to leave criticism at the door and lose yourself in its excellence. And these EPs truly are excellent at times. They aren’t anything completely new, and they aren’t really out to set trends or recapture a lost era. The best stuff is just really well-crafted, accessible, modern R&B.

Miguel isn’t exactly new to the scene. The 25-year-old half Mexican, half Black Angelino started his career as a dancer and since then has seen failure after failure after lawsuit, and then some hope in the form of guest work compliments of Usher and Ne-Yo. It’s obvious that Miguel wasn’t preordained for greatness then.

What makes the Art Dealer Chicrecords work is they understand the full gamut of what makes R&B work. Which is, in a word, confidence. I’d be willing to say that, unlike peers such as Chris Brown, Miguel probably listens to Usher and plays the album tracks. Listens to The-Dream and hears why the songs weren’t all outsourced to Robin Thicke. Listens to Ne-Yo and hears how a proper vocal actually works with the music, instead of becoming the overwhelming focal point.

Yet for all of this technical know-how, it’s Miguel’s vocals, sounding like peak-era Daryl Hall, that set the tone early on Vol. 1’s “Adorn.” That leads right into “Gravity,” the first of two great songs on Art Dealer Chic. “Gravity” is a real pop ballad, and Miguel sings the shit out of it. Lyrically, it’s an anomaly—at a time where the hot trend in pop songwriting is to mythologize the sky as a metaphor for individual freedom (“Firework,” “Starships”). Miguel instead casts being grounded back to Earth as a sign of true love and expression.

After these opening songs for lovers, Vol. 2 goes for broke (and misogyny) with “Broads.” The only characteristics that stand out on first listen are the harsh insults and ingenious self-promotion/freestyle invitation. But after awhile, it’s clear that “Broads” contains the best production on the EPs, with precise, forceful percussion, melodic sound effects, and perfectly mixed vocals. This is followed up by the other great track of the set, “Arch and Point,” which is the token R&B album track thinly guised as a song to fuck to. And Goddammit, is it one anthemic sex song. Everything is laid on thick, including the production, but its pacing and delicate echo would make R. Kelly proud. The lack of subtlety is usually a sign of failure, but the gamble pays off here.

Vol. 3, sadly, ends the series on a down note. Only “Party Life” is admirable, in a pretty good Prince B-side kind of way. But anyone who is actually familiar with the sustained quality of Prince B-sides would see that pretty good isn’t to be confused with great. The last two tracks are, at first, obvious and, upon further listen, clunky and stilted.

But overall, this is a winning set of music. The fact that something this good has been readily available for free for months is really encouraging as well. As alluded to above, there’s not a lot of great R&B that passes through the Club Fonograma world. Something like this, marketed as the set-up for something better down the line, should keep us all on our toes. Just don’t forget to arch your back.

Gravity by MigueI
♫♫♫ "Gravity"