EP Review: The-Dream Shows a New Dimension on 'Crown'

Album Review
<p>Terius Nash, the R&amp;B singer, songwriter and producer who performs as <a href="http://www.billboard.com/artist/419475/dream/chart">The-Dream</a>, specializes in creating tracks that are triumphant and crushingly melodic. Listen to "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHsOEQtt3u4">Fast Car</a>" (2007) or "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kD3ALMCxdc">F.I.L.A.</a>" (2010): These glistening tunes seem to corral the energy of a rocket ship mid-blast-off. In the late '00s, Dream's success matched his sound, as he helped put together enduring contributions to the pop canon -- <a href="/artist/365068/rihanna/chart">Rihanna</a>'s "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvBfHwUxHIk">Umbrella</a>," <a href="http://www.billboard.com/artist/281569/beyonce/chart">Beyonce</a>'s "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m1EFMoRFvY">Single Ladies</a>," <a href="/artist/309388/mariah-carey/chart">Mariah Carey</a>'s "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Yt0xJKDY8">Obsessed</a>" -- in addition to releasing a well-regarded trilogy of solo albums. But it's not easy to maintain upward momentum in pop's upper echelon, and Dream's new EP, <em>Crown</em> (out now), is carefully calibrated to reposition the singer in the modern climate.</p><p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/W30e4iD7xh4" frameborder="0" height="315" width="500"></iframe></p><p>What happened in the last few years? Crucially, there was a major sonic shift in pop, R&amp;B and rap, toward darkness and cavernous post-<a href="/artist/301284/drake/chart">Drake</a> beats on the one hand and <a href="/artist/6236875/dj-mustard/chart">DJ Mustard</a>-like minimalism on the other. Even when singing the nastiest of kiss-offs, Dream tends toward the bright end of the spectrum, and he has always favored opulent, fussy melodies.</p><p>Nash also occupies an increasingly crowded niche. He was one of the first modern professional songwriters and producers to receive a lot of attention for his behind-the-scenes work. These days, thanks in part to his success, scrutinizing album credits for artists like the Dream is commonplace: every outlet wants to be the first to run a headline like "Meet X, The Secret Weapon Behind Y's New Hit." Nash helped opened a door to get songwriters and producers the attention they deserve -- and a lot of people sneaked in behind him.</p><p align="center"><strong><a href="http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/6524332/the-dream-sinatra-obsession-coldplay-collaboration" target="_blank">The-Dream Reveals His Sinatra Obsession &amp; Why Coldplay Is His Ultimate Collaborator</a></strong></p><p>For a new landscape, new strategies: Dream has shifted his focus towards short releases. Putting out music in timed installments worked well in the past for <a href="/artist/311090/miguel/chart">Miguel</a> -- who dropped three three-song releases in between his first and second album -- and <a href="http://www.billboard.com/artist/419413/weeknd/chart">the Weeknd</a>, who exploded on the strength of three 9-track tapes before his major label debut. After the Dream whiffed with <em>IV Play</em>, his last full-length, in 2013, scaled back on<em> Royalty: The Prequel</em>, a mere seven tracks, last year. <em>Crown </em>contains just six songs. Supposedly it will fit in with another short sequel, <em>Jewel</em>, due July 7<sup>th</sup>, to form a larger project.</p><p>Half this EP is a weak gesture in the direction of current radio trends. "That's My Shit," the lead single, is a solid attempt to cash in on the DJ Mustard sound, but this is an odd move considering that Dream's "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA-MMmJAi8A">Make Up Bag</a>" basically arrived at the Mustard formula back in 2010. <em>Crown</em>'s "Throw It Back" also waves at west coast production with its elastic G-funk bass. On "Cedes Benz," Dream basically abandons melody entirely to rap over a buzzing beat.</p><p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Y_PwH3Wk78w" frameborder="0" height="315" width="500"></iframe></p><p>But on the other half of this EP, Dream shows an impressive new dimension to his romantic games. In the past, the results of his flirtation were a foregone conclusion: S-E-X. This is an artist who built "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TB10gonKlU">Falsetto</a>" and "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uapNElYawbM">Mr. Yeah</a>" around boasts about the orgasmic satisfaction his partners receive and later released a (stunning) internet loosie titled "<a href="https://soundcloud.com/poresomefui/the-dream-fuck-my-brains-out">F--- My Brains Out</a>." On several new songs though, he bypasses the steamy encounters in favor of pleading, fervent love songs.</p><p>Working in this mode, he also adjusts his sound: Nash once started singing <a href="/artist/306963/lenny-williams/chart">Lenny Williams</a>' towering 1978 hit "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbzkwLWK-Ps">Cause I Love You</a>" on the phone during <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/04/20/living-on-the-radio">an interview</a>, and several <em>Crown </em>tracks approach the lush intricacies of '70s and '80s R&amp;B ballads. "Prime" opens with rich cascade of melody on a synthesizer, which is later doubled by the drums; Dream's singing soft and low and committing himself completely: "everything and anything I'll be for you." During "All I Need," he focuses on the tender middle register of his voice, which is more fit for entreating -- "all I need is you, baby" -- than his erotic falsetto.</p><p>"Fruition" reaches even further, pulling in guitars and horns -- rare textures in Dream songs, which tend to rely on batteries of synthesizers. The result? A sweet, effortless cloud of modern soul. Some artists are good at building on trends, but this one's better off when he's starting them.</p>