As the pandemic creeps into its second year, the minutiae of social interactions begin to feel less familiar. Dinners, hookups, and long drives with unmasked passengers are distant memories. Channel Tres’ i can’t go outside is a hazy recollection of life before everything changed. Inspired by his time in lockdown, the Compton-born producer and rapper uses thumping West Coast g-funk and the sensual swagger of Chicago and Detroit house as backdrops for odes to the simple things in life—cruising in his Chevy, roller skating to Frankie Beverly, even waiting in line at IKEA—interspersed with reflections on ambition and growing up Black in America.
These songs are all about vibe. As a storyteller, Tres favors fragments over narrative, sprinkling biographical hints into the mix like breadcrumbs. On “2000 chevy malibu,” Tres recalls his first car and the newfound independence of being a teenager with endless miles at his disposal. It unfolds like a rose-colored dream sequence, leaning heavily into Tres’ R&B background via woozy backing vocals that complement his mumbly talk-rap delivery. “skate depot,” a sparkling ode to Los Angeles’ namesake roller-skating destination, which closed in 2014, captures the funk-filled joy that has made roller rinks a sacred destination for many Black Americans.
The EP’s collaborations are its highlights. Tyler, the Creator briefly snaps back into his Goblin days on “fuego” as the two swap snapshots of quarantine horniness that devolve into Tres’ realization, “Human contact don’t exist/Human contact is a risk.” On “take your time,” an R&B/house hybrid that’s begging for placement on summer 2021’s late-night playlists, Tinashe commands the spotlight over a lush, slowed-down groove. But Channel Tres’ vocals too often feel like an afterthought, which is a shame considering the potential he showed in 2020 with his one-off single “Weedman” and his collaboration with SG Lewis and Robyn.
There are hints of vulnerability here—particularly on “broke down kid interlude,” where Tres ponders survivor’s guilt over a gliding house groove—but the EP is missing the spark of his best singles, like “Controller” and “Black Moses.” He’s at his best when he toys with the cadence of his rhyming, as on “fuego,” but when it comes to grappling with the loneliness of isolation, he pushes up against the limits of his comfort zone. “I miss the time we had shows,” he raps on the closing “unfinished business,” but then gets stuck in a looping half-thought: “More than what it seems.” Tres’ pursuit of the vibe can only take him so far.
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our best-reviewed albums of the week. Sign up for the 10 to Hear newsletter here.