As the oldest son of legendary vocalist and composer Bobby ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ McFerrin, Taylor McFerrin has presumably had ample time to soak up as much of the unorthodox, richly diverse musicianship that the family crest must surely represent. Taylor, following in the footsteps of his father, puts on the captain’s hat for Early Riser, his debut LP courtesy of Flying Lotus’s and Ninjatune’s off-shoot label, Brainfeeder, and as a consequence, helms the production, instrumental and compositional responsibilities. Considering also that the album has been around five years in the making, it suggests that the multi-talented McFerrin – in dominating every facet of the LP- is a big ol’ perfectionist. A jazzy, electrified perfectionist.
Which, in some form or another, usually shines through on Early Riser.Opening track ‘Postpartem,’for example, is a slow moving exercise in atmospheric acrobatics. It swells and relaxes, and builds to some dazzling synth washes whilst McFerrin’s dreamy vocals distill the ether. The percussion is soft and loose at times, but perfect in context. It does what it’s supposed to do. Lush, in short. More glory can be found on ‘Florasia,’ where the combination of McFerrin’s vocals and instrumental intricacies produce a well-rounded, smoothly executed track that bears all the hallmarks of futuristic RnB. Deep and echoing, the bass line punctuates a synth-heavy melodic progression, often layered upon twinkling flourishes of keys. Again, it is a confirmation of the kind of considered approach to music that McFerrin takes. Similarly, tracks like ‘Already There’ which features Robert Glasper and Thundercat or ‘Place in My Heart’ featuring RYAT command the listener’s attention with dexterous instrumental flair and jazz-tinged melodics. Tonal changes coupled with percussion which is aggressive but well-compressed achieve a ferocity that’s fuzzy around the edges. Unfortunately though, the latter feels a little too guided by McFerrin’s improvisational sensibilities. RYAT’s vocals drone receptively, shrouded by a musical vision that becomes quite muddled quite quickly. It’s not a bad effort, but it’s not the marvelous culmination of skills that the album is otherwise full of. In fact, it’s a starkly different vibe that perhaps should have been smoothed out.
As debut albums go, Early Riser is indicative of McFerrin’s ambitions to explore the experimental with the trusted tools of instrumental savvy and compositional know-how, but for a debut album that has been this long in the making, there are some largely contrasting energies at play that may well leave the listener feeling a little perplexed. McFerrin is at his best when he slows things down a bit and lets the melodies and atmospheric timbres do the work, ‘Stepps’ being a fine example of this. Instead, at times we are given a relatively mixed bag of electronica/jazz tracks that don’t really reflect the nucleus of McFerrin’s honed abilities; closing track ‘PLS DNT LSTN’ for example, is ferociously jazzy and quite a step too far from the quality that dots the LP nicely. This type of musicianship will undoubtedly serve McFerrin well in a live setting, but, ultimately, as a mission statement, Early Riser could have communicated its goals more clearly. Aaron Drain
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