JVCK’s New Bounce is ‘ON THE ROCKS’ and the Future of R&B – at least for the Summer – is his
Evan Dale // May 6, 2022
By the very nature of the spectrum, every R&B project is a thematic one. Love, lust, loss. Such are the topics largely inescapable within the realm – rooted and grown to intangible heights through decades of sonic experimentation, risks taken, and a return – at least to some extent – to the foundations that got today’s artists where they are now, ringing in a new Golden Era. The expansion of the sound in our modern moment, and the growth of its audience in subsequence place today’s R&B stars on a pop pedestal of heights unreached since the 90’s. Artists like SZA, Snoh Aalegra, Daniel Caesar, and DVSN have redrawn the global scale of R&B, headlining festivals and international tour dates in the process of reinventing a new aesthetic boundary of sounds that can define the style. Through it, R&B – like all archaic terms of genrefication – transcends the boundaries that once cleanly kept the stylistic expectation of an artist organized. And in turn, a next generation of even younger artistry – certainly inspired by R&B, but not bound to its box of old – continue to redefine what their sound can express by way of the path carved out by the generations before them.
From the youngest generation of quickly emergent, R&B rooted names, JVCK JAMES is one that should especially be known. The forcefully registered, emotionally in-tune, fashionably keen, 90-reminiscent star on the rise has not only been the keystone for a larger London Soul underground since his then teenaged debuts, Extroverted Lovers and Easy introduced his unique sound to the scene in 2017; but also a star bound rocket pushing the boundaries – and undoubtedly rocking the boat – for the next generation of R&B music at a global scale.
His newest addition to a quickly ballooning canon is ON THE ROCKS. And it stands – even in the permanently thematic reaches of R&B music – as a vibrantly successful concept album, tethered akin from beginning to end as an exploration of a relationship from its unexpected beginnings to when the cracks begin to show. Unsubtly named, unstably emotional, confident in its thematic discourse, it’s his most successful collection to date by any measure. His 2019 debut album, DETOUR was a confident exploration of his meandering nature to craft R&B within the spectrum of all that R&B has ever been – romantically soulful, high-key sensual, vocally superior, and emotionally dominant. 2021’s JOYRIDE EP presented his musicality in the light of a new-age experimentalist, truer to the roots of his electronically entrenched debut singles released a half-decade ago.
ON THE ROCKS, however, thrives on something more tangibly long-lasting. Form-fitted to explore beyond the undeniable talent and bold sonic confluence of the still very, very young trailblazer, JVCK’s new bounce connects to his listeners as he’s never done before through the a focus on honesty, vulnerability, and ultimate relatability, all the while still keeping very much in the foreground his unparalleled vocal range and modern ubiquity. It’s a mature progression of the two JVCK JAMES pillars – vocalism and emotionality – in perfect coalescence of one another, and with a more mature edge. And it tells a story capturing of any listener’s attention if for no other reason than that all of us have likely been through it all before – albeit maybe not as glamorously doused in cool blue club neon and 90’s renaissance puffer jackets as our protagonist, Mr. JAMES.
Silkily and intergalactically spinning from its start to the colorful blendaline of electronically nuanced production, dynamic layering, and pure R&B register, ON THE ROCKS’ opener, Galaxy Swim (Deeper) sets in motion the surefooted tone that JVCK is out to recapture some of the signature mystère that long made him one of the most exciting names in all of music. Sidestepping an addiction to stylistically backflipping on a track to track basis that has left his prior two projects undeniably gorgeous yet dizzying, his seeming mastery of the stylistic and emotional progression on display ON THE ROCKS has likewise bolstered his soulful ingenuity. The entire thing feels like one run-on composition, submerging anyone listening in the dynamic, thematic explosion of what is also his most sonically successful textural exploration to date. The substance and the sound are tied to one another, after all. And yet, even though JVCK JAMES has been an undeniable tour-de-R&B-force since his onset, there is also no doubt that his harness of vocalism and a steadfast progression of his productive prowess have also only gotten better with time.
Drunk Love – the project’s secondary track – is a perfect example of how JVCK’s already impossibly wide-ranging auditory aesthetic has reached new heights, and widths. Through an addicting chorus drenched in a messy triangle of binging alcohol, budding romance, and inescapable lust, JVCK unearths an effortless sort of smoothness and waterfalling melody that leaves itself imprinted on any listener’s mind. By the time Hennessy Tears explodes through its electronically sourced beat, the competition for a who’s-got-next in the R&B game is clenched. Intangibly easy listening and breathing of the Springtime stumbles with love that any of us can relate to, it is the ultimate amalgamation of what JVCK JAMES has always been able to bring into R&B piecemeal but until now, hasn’t been fully realized. On a more poppy note, he ties it altogether with the project’s closer, Love In The Club – a funk-strewn Summer anthem pulling his R&B in even more directions, yet still very much tethered to the rest of the progressing composition at hand.
ON THE ROCKS is about as enthralling and immersive as a four-track EP can be. And it’s every damn bit as good as anything anyone else in R&B or its wider Neo-Soul scene in London, in the UK, or anywhere in the world are putting together right now.