Published Jun 03, 2014Taylor McFerrin's debut album has been in the works since his Broken Vibes EP first surfaced back in 2006. Since then, McFerrin has honed his skills remixing and producing for others, eventually releasing another EP in 2011 (also titled Early Riser) after connecting with Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label. Judging from the results on his debut full-length, it was well worth the wait.
The time it has taken McFerrin to put together this album would indicate he possesses meticulous attention to detail, and the work of the producer/beatboxer and multi-instrumentalist on this album bears this out. Early Riser's tracks, roughly balanced between instrumentals and vocal appearances, often unfurl gradually and build tension over their duration into layered, sumptuous affairs that caress the ear, rewarding patience.
"Decisions," featuring Emily King, is a hypnotic slice of fractured future soul, and "The Antidote" is a showcase for the beguiling vocals of Nai Palm, lead singer of experimental, soulful Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote. McFerrin himself steps to the mic on the neo-soul-tinged "Florasia" to deliver an achingly sincere performance. The vocal tracks provide a sense of structure to the sequencing, as the more experimental tracks on the album can wander off into a bit of noodling. Even then, Early Riser demands your attention, as McFerrin's skills as an arranger engage you in what he's adding and removing from the mix.
It helps that McFerrin has assembled a stellar cast of collaborators for this album. Labelmate Thundercat, Robert Glasper and his famed father Bobby McFerrin stop by to add their expertise to the proceedings. While all of their reputations at this point are quite larger than McFerrin's, they never overwhelm the project or threaten to overshadow him, because of the sonic consistency and depth of the musical approaches from which he draws.
It's possible to detect elements of jazz, '70s soul, hip-hop and electronica in McFerrin's heliocentric mix, but through his intentional blurring of the boundaries, he underlines his mastery of and ultimate disregard for genre categories. It all really comes down to just being good music. (Brainfeeder)