by: Kane Brown

Kane Brown leaned into his millennial modernity on his 2016 debut, but the very title of its 2018 sequel suggests he is ready to probe the boundaries of what constitutes country at the twilight of the 2010s. Experiment dials down the overt modern R&B bent of Kane Brown without abandoning this aesthetic; similarly, he moves away from the candid confessionals of "Learning" but is still comfortable enough with his feelings to offer an explicit political protest song with "American Bad Dream." Such shifts are as tactical as Brown's decision to blend classic country forms with modern production while simultaneously accentuating a guttural growl that was unheard on his debut. This vocal affectation makes Brown sound more conventionally country but he deploys it cannily, whether it's on the randy "Short Skirt Weather" -- a spiritual sequel to Mel McDaniel's "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" -- or the opening "Baby Come Back to Me," which beats Jason Aldean at his slow-burning game. Brown isn't especially interested in being strictly country, though. These tracks help shore up support with the country base, but he also dabbles in arena country with echoes of U2 ("My Where I Come From") and amorphous borderless modern pop, which are mere accents to his concentration on soul. Brown embraces both old-school and modern R&B, sliding into a classic Southern groove on "Good as You" and gliding along to the slick surfaces of "Weekend," where he entices his lover to while away the days binge-watching '90s sitcoms. On these songs, Brown erases the lines between the past and the present, and this blurriness is the strength of Experiment: like the world he lives in, he repurposes old sounds and styles with his eye firmly on the future. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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