Due to the dearth of notable albums released in early January, I reluctantly hit play on the fourth short project preceding an album from former Justin Bieber clone Austin Mahone, and was honestly pleasantly surprised. Now signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money label, he attracts prominent collaborators that can push his decent singing voice to newer heights. The project features some very catchy pop sensibilities in the production and song structure, resembling the new and more mature direction Bieber himself has taken lately. Of course, there are still the kinds of songs on here that rappers like Pitbull tend to make their presence known on, bringing down the overall enjoyment, but there are still some serious surprises for an artist discovered in the way Mahone was.
The better songs here are following some of the positive trends of current pop music, while the worst present some that are rapidly becoming outdated and ineffective. A track like “Pretty Amd Young” is alright enough before its jarring drop into a dance break that is too big and bass-boosted for the understated pop song that precedes it. However, when he delves into the tropical-leaning Bieber “Sorry”-style tracks his voice shines and the playful production in the background matches the carefree, summery melody. The rap features from Juicy J and 2 Chainz actually complement their respective songs quite well, giving Mahone’s new grown-up talk some legitimacy, while Pitbull, expectedly, is Pitbull.
“Love At Night”, the opening track, shocked me. It is a quintessential example of the breezy, dreamy pop music that plays in your head while relaxing on a beach. Its production is structured somewhat like a hip-hop song, with frequent interjections from featured artist Juicy J and a rapid-fire, skittering beat that serves as a foundation for slower chords. The simple melody that Mahone’s smooth voice provides over the bass-heavy beat brings to mind what makes a song like R. Kelly’s classic “Ignition” so successful. “Better With You” is similarly great, opening with 20 seconds of nothing but a cheerful marimba melody and accompanying snaps. Mahone wakes up on Saturday morning and eases into the track before twinkling instrumentation comes in for a huge falsetto chorus.
On the other side of the spectrum, the songwriting across the board comes across as a much weaker point and is fraught with pop cliches. It is exactly what you might expect from an artist who was discovered at a very young age and is now 20 years old, and as we’ve seen with so many, is really trying too hard to sell it. As well, without the extra creative mile that some of these beats provide, it is too much of the same to be an engaging listen. Mahone’s voice is good, even beautifully understated at times, but it’s not spectacular enough to make the run-of-the-mill acoustic ballad or four-on-the-floor dance number stand out from the pack on its own. “Wait Around”, clearly an attempt of capturing the magic of “Love Yourself”, is sluggish and boring, its 4:15 runtime actually significantly longer than many of the tracks here. “Lady”, a eurobeat-style dance-pop track, is straight out of a bad party in the early 2000s.
For Me+You is very derivative, but on the odd occasion that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As an emerging pop star, Mahone certainly has potential to eventually inhabit the kind of mold that the catalyst for his discovery, Mr. Bieber himself, inhabits right now. With the right influences and collaborators — in other words, not Pitbull please — the unevenness of this project could be trimmed and he could deliver some great pop tracks.
Favourite Tracks: Better With You, Love At Night, Shake It For Me
Least Favourite Track: Lady