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American Teen

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Artist: Khalid
Label: RCA

Review

Khalid Robinson made major commercial headway in early 2017 with "Location," a drowsy, teetering ballad the singer and songwriter seemed to deliver while lying on his bed, or maybe someone else's couch, eyes glued to his phone, just after waking up. In that song, and through much of what fills out American Teen, his debut album, Robinson's not one to get worked up. He's in no particular rush, content to drift through life while accepting, and occasionally sort of celebrating, the present. "American Teen" itself -- hollowed-out late-'80s mall pop with a disco-funk bassline -- is a youth anthem of shrugging aimlessness. There's not a whole lot of enthusiasm for revelry, dulled by substances, apathy, a combination of the two, or just the aspiration to look the part: "I'm so faded off of all the things I've taken, and maybe I'm not really drunk, maybe I'm really good at faking." There are points at which Robinson makes Frank Ocean sound like Teddy Pendergrass. On "Young Dumb & Broke," the mere concept of commitment seems so silly to him that he can't be bothered to enunciate the word, or maybe he just lost interest after the second syllable. After a nonchalant chorus that consists primarily of the song's title and a lethargic warble -- surprise -- he dumps one of his best melodies in the bridge. While he opens "Another Sad Love Song" by confessing "I'm not the best at showing my emotions," some bright moments make it apparent that Robinson has clearly sold himself short. Dusty ballad "Cold Blooded," in particular, demonstrates that he's perfectly capable of conveying grief without being overly demonstrative. When alert, he can be a force. ~ Andy Kellman