Avant-funk cosmonauts N.E.R.D. debuted snippets of their upcoming fourth album Nothing in a dark Chelsea, New York lounge last night. According to the ever-visible Pharrell Williams, the album was influenced by the ’60s and ’70s counterculture — the psychedelic soundtracks that accompanied the anti-war, anti-sexism and anti-segregation movements.
The snippets indeed felt like swirling acid rock subverted through the impossibly funky N.E.R.D. machine: parts were redolent of the hauntingly minimal bubbling of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On or the snaky, minor-key spirals of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. Opener “Help Me” even sounds like a hip-hop reimagining of Waiting for the Sun-era Doors, complete with shimmering Manzarek-sounding organs and what sounds like Pharrell doing his best Jim Morrison “come on!” N.E.R.D. completed the illusion by bringing four go-go girls to shimmy along during the party.
“We just wanted to explore something different, something visual,” N.E.R.D.’s Chad Hugo told Rolling Stone. “Peaceful, sexual, other stuff synonymous with the era.” Hugo says the band listened to the Doors and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds for inspiration — although mostly on MP3 instead of vinyl — and studied a handful of James Bond films for their slinky vibes.
So did they experiment with psychedelic drugs to get the desired effect? “We were doing exercises… push-ups,” says Hugo. “And then we’d take breaks and go outside our Miami studio and play guitar on the porch.”
About the title, Nothing, Williams told the crowd, “We spent all of last year touring, it was good. But good was not good enough, so we started with nothing.” The album is due June 15th.