- Genre: Electronica
- Date: 29 Apr, 2023
- Content: explicit
- Track(s): 13
- ℗ 2023 MWA Music under exclusive license to IMPERIAL
Since the peak of the 1990s, Mike Dean has become renowned for his daring, retro, synth-heavy productions of hard-core rappers like Scarface, multi-hyphenate hip-hop moguls like Kanye West and Travis Scott, and symphonic-scored R&B vocalists like Beyoncé and the Weeknd. However, Mike Dean always sounds like he’s having the most fun working alone. So let’s take the surprise release this past weekend of Dean’s latest stoner effort, “4:23,” which, like 2020’s upbeat instrumental album “4:20,” is a mix of a stern sci-fi epic soundtrack and hazy dream-pop.
“4:23” has proggy unplanned melodies cut from more extended ice block suites, and it occasionally reminds one of Dean’s home-recorded, amplified synth pieces. However, this new album mainly consists of shorter, more intelligent compositions that are actual songs. Listeners can thank The Weeknd, Dean’s dependable colleague, tourmate, and co-star on the streaming network, for such newly anointed perfection. The Weeknd serves as the executive producer of “4:23.”
The Album Art features a young Dean posing for the camera in what appears to be a high school or college yearbook, especially given its vintage aesthetic. Dean would indeed have had a throwback when he posed for the album’s cover photo, looking like an impressionable man with a mullet who no one would have predicted would go on to become a synth-hop icon.
Tracks And Features
The opening track of Mike Dean’s most recent album, 4:23, “Once Upon a Time,” tackles the contentious issue of artificial intelligence’s role in music with all the urgency of the unfinished first draft of a Tron sequel. In a tale told by an unidentified voice that falls between Cortana from Halo and Laurel Dann’s interludes from A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, listeners discover that AI has developed the ability to produce art “just as well as humans.”
In reaction, people set up a competition to demonstrate that machines cannot and will not replace them. As you might imagine, humanity triumphs in this quote: “While A.I. may be able to create perfect works of art and music/It will never be able to capture the spirit of what makes those creations unquestionably great: the human touch.” The majority of 4:23 is as grey and inert as a wall of code, which unfortunately doesn’t do the music any favors due to the epic scope and narrative window dressing.
Given the history of the self-described Synth God’s solo career and his collaborations with rap icons like Scarface and pop singers like Beyoncé, this is an odd disappointment. Dean’s instrumental albums 4:20 from 2020 and 4:22 from the same year gave him the freedom to stray from his usual job as a producer and focus only on groovy, drugged-out synths for the sake of it; neither album included a single guest appearance. 4:23 aims a bit higher: The Weeknd, a longtime collaborator, co-executively produces the album and contributes vocals to four songs recorded the week after their Coachella performances this year.
But despite all the fanfare in the beginning, it might be challenging to identify the human touch in the production or lyrics. Consider “Defame Moi,” a song that makes only oblique references to detractors and lacks the intensity and venom of even the Weeknd’s most numbing ballads. Likewise, his vocals on “More Coke!!” don’t sound like his.
The six repeated sentences (“The cocaine fluctuates my weight/Scarface”) don’t exactly present the height of human inventiveness; instead, they dissolve into a stupid Super Duper Flow that has been digitally changed to disappear. Nevertheless, they overachieved if the goal was to use his voice as another instrument in Dean’s artificial sea. The Weeknd’s cries for a love interest he left behind on tour elevate Dean’s essential synths and percussion with a dash of melodrama in “Artificial Intelligence,” the duo’s closest song to the promise of their Instagram Live sessions.
Dean has adopted The Weeknd’s vision of seductive avant-garde pop-soul on the four “4:23” songs they both contributed to writing. On the Weeknd’s side of the ledger, “4:23” is the (willingly exhilarating) bummer of the summer, whether it’s the side effects of marijuana or cocaine. His depressing lyrics give the impression that no one this time took drugs successfully, or at least not to the same degree as the young Dean did when he posed for the album’s cover photo.
Mike Dean opens the door to his strange, dreamy world of analog synths at 4:23. Unfortunately, a large portion of this album is not for the faint of heart, especially in terms of electronic music. Many of The Weeknd’s guest vocal appearances are synthesizer lunacy, but there are some fantastic moments. However, there are a few standouts, especially on some Abel-related tunes. “Artificial Intelligence” is one of the album’s songs and possibly its greatest. It seems logical that The Weeknd is involved in it because it would fit right into his list of bodies of work.