The short new project from the OVO singer taps into his sought-after pop-songwriting techniques.
Technically speaking, PartyNextDoor is a hitmaker. Cowriting Rihanna’s sweltering dancehall triumph “Work” and DJ Khaled’s Santana-aping summer smash “Wild Thoughts,” he’s contributed to two top five singles on the Hot 100 in two respective years. His pop-songwriting chops have been enlisted by Zayn, Major Lazer, and most notably Drake, who signed the Missisauga R&B singer to his OVO Sound label in 2013. While Party has been generous in handing hits to others, he’s not found the same success in the singles market with his solo material, which, in some ways, is a conscious move. Party has been known to live a reclusive, studio rat lifestyle at times, and his preference to do everything from production to recording in solo sessions has helped maintain the insular experience. This intimate approach to songcraft has become his calling card when it comes to his own studio releases. 2016’s PartyNextDoor 3, the singer’s most anticipated release to date, seemed to take a step back into murky R&B just when many fans expected a star moment on par with the singles he’d penned for others. "I can go into imagination with other people,” Party said in an interview with Big Boy's Neighborhood last year. “For myself, it's more of like -- I've got admit it, I've got to tell the truth. I prefer writing for myself, because I like the challenge."
Challenging is a good way to describe PND3, which despite spawning Party’s two biggest solo singles, “Come and See Me” and “Not Nice” (respectively peaking at No. 55 and No. 82 on the Hot 100), was his most moody, cerebral work to date. When it wasn’t greeted with the same immediate enthusiasm as previous releases by fans, Party tweeted and quickly deleted what read like a promise to provide his followers with something more universally satisfying. “I want to give you guys the best music that you guys deserve,” he said, hinting that his constant work for other artists had begun to run him dry. “Sorry due to my blessings the curse is everyone wants a piece of pie. Soon...”
Seven Days plays like a move towards that sentiment. The short project follows a flurry of releases throughout the summer, including the surprise-released Colours 2 EPand a number of standalone tracks. Teased on Twitter a week before it made its way online, the seven tracks from the project were presented as respective days and each given their own unique artwork. Sticking with that format, each song on the project stands firmly on its own legs in a way that the more atmospheric moments on PND3 did not. “Damage,” a collaboration with Halsey, the burgeoning superstar he’s currently opening for on tour, finds Party embracing his pop side in a way we don’t often hear him do on his own material. Always more of a writer than a vocalist, the song is one of Party’s most confident performances, putting himself front and center over production from a reliable team of T-Minus and Frank Dukes. You can picture PND dueting face-to-face with his collaborator rather than head-down in the shadows with the brim of a dad hat tilted over his face. The fact that the song was composed with Halsey present in the studio, the only artist he’s ever successfully written and recorded an entire song with in one session, so he claims, certainly plays into that dynamic.
This collaborative approach reaches across Seven Days, with Party himself only contributing to the production on two of seven songs. Where some of the singer’s self-produced work contains a demo-like affection, the many cooks in the kitchen on the project makes his strongly-written songs shinier and more precise. The drum programming is universally bigger and more commanding than that of previous releases, reinforcing the sharp hooks of songs like “Pay Attention” that may breeze by with a less assertive presentation.
As he recently expressed in an interview with Zane Lowe, Party is not a fan of the word “vibe,” an increasingly ambiguous phrase that’s become widely used in the world of rap and R&B. “Everything's a vibe. Everyone calls everything, 'Oh, it's a vibe,'" he said, revealing that he discourages usage of the word in his studio sessions. Often cited as a purveyor of the dusky rap-influenced R&B Drake and The Weeknd have popularized, its not altogether surprising that Party seeks to distance himself from an aesthetic descriptor like ‘vibe.’ Many students of the aforementioned Toronto stars rely heavily on the stylistic aspects of the sound, making the OVO Sound Radio ‘vibe’ one that’s been pursued by less talented imitators. While the more cosmetic aspects of Party’s style often fit neatly under the Toronto umbrella, his songwriting has proven to be a strong core that transcends its surface-level influences. “A lot of things that came out of Toronto were darker at the time. But me? I’m all about colors. I’ll flip samples where one’s a completely dark song and the next one is a complete sexual song. People think my whole thing is a dark thing, but I don’t,” he told Fader in 2015. From the sparing acoustic ballad “The Right Way” to the ascendant, cockily half-rapped “Never Played Me,” it’s clear that Party is getting more comfortable shifting his tone, which means each track ultimately packs a bigger punch.
Seven Days was written and recorded in the timeframe its title suggests. It’s a spontaneous project written after the singer’s self-described “bad July,” in which he had a falling out with a woman in his life. As someone who’s been known to delete tweets minutes after posting them, the project feels more like something Party had to get out of his system as fast as possible than it is a carefully conceived work. With that being said, rather than a petty moment regrettably immortalized, the singer is for the most part, considerate and redemptive. “You saw me standing close / Holding hands, with someone else, yeah / Your heart can feel it all / Love my actions, not the words,” he sings on “Better Man,” a song which finds him examining his questionable behavior after failing as a lover.
As an artist who can create a song in the same time many take to draft the perfect Instagram post, it’s likely fans will see Seven Days as another quick fix on the way to Party’s upcoming LP Club Atlantis. Luckily, as some of the most immediate songwriting we’ve heard from Party in some time, it shouldn’t take long to stick.