Francis Farewell Starlite has quietly led a futuristic musical project worth noting over the past decade. His last album, Farewell, Starlite!, surprised many with its infectious production, and fantastic features from Chance the Rapper, Kanye West and Bon Iver. One aspect of his previous record that was kind of swept under the rug was his songwriting, which was something I was hoping he would bring to the forefront on his next project.
On Just For Us, Starlite does that, but composes a more parched level of instrumentation. At times on his second album, he has a hard time balancing the difficult task of writing quality songs with glamorous production.
Occasionally, it will almost seem like some of these tracks are B-sides from his previous record, based on the length of the entire project: it’s only 26 minutes long, closer to the length of the EPs he’s been putting out since 2007 than Farewell. Every so often, I’d find myself really enjoying the aesthetic of a song until it would end very abruptly. As rarely as this happens in music, I wanted more from Francis’s second effort.
The pixelated instrumentals on “Just For Us” was a highlight of the album, with Justin Vernon’s voice becoming part of the track in the smoothest of ways. The song becomes stunning when Vernon hits that high pitch in the chorus. This cut reminded me a lot of their previous collaboration on “Friends,” where the production and vocal performance came together as one. I happen to like this side of Francis more, but it rarely shows up on his most recent effort.
While his ability to arrange and mix music is uncanny, Francis’s songwriting is not as strong as people say it is. He has the potential to be one of the best songwriters in the industry, but the tracks are too short for him to put that on full display. If you really delve deep into the lyrics, there’s really nothing that groundbreaking being said.
On the track “Scream So Loud,” Francis puts out his worst performance to date, where the vocal edits are almost unlistenable, and the chorus is remarkably skeletal. Francis is a competent enough singer, and he doesn’t need the obnoxious layers of auto-tune. This is a problem that continually shows up in Bon Iver’s music as well.
Francis does administer a capable singing performance on the very beautiful, “Breaking Up.” While again, the songwriting is very bare, at least he hits his notes.
With such a short project, it’s hard for me to defend his decision to make the production in the latter half of this album so reserved. It’s not until the final song, “Cruise,” until we finally see a culmination of what Francis and the Lights’ peak could be. Everything from the hip-hop style beat, to the use of the double vocal effect, is just as inventive as it is groundbreaking.
However, for every track put together so well, there were a lot of moments of “could have been, should have been,” when it came to the overall progression of Just For Us. Maybe this record will grow on me with more listens.
Personally, I prefer the Francis who creates captivating electronic ballads with vocal edits, rather than an artist who doesn’t have the ability to take over a track with his songwriting skills. It seemed to me that there was a lot left on the table creatively here that never fully was addressed.
As talented as Francis is, I can’t give him the benefit of the doubt for songs that sound unfinished, and are nothing more than a segment of a full idea.