Review: Taylor McFerrin‘s “Early Riser”

06/05/2014 6:32 PM

06/12/2014 5:09 PM

‘Early Riser' (Brainfeeder)

Taylor McFerrin

The latest referendum on highly chilled, semi-improvised, post-Stevie Wonder, electroacoustic, lotus-eating R&B Afro-futurism is an album by Taylor McFerrin.

McFerrin is a musician and a singer, although “Early Riser,” his first full-length record, does not make a big fuss about his singing. He is the son of Bobby McFerrin, the human larynx; it’s not surprising why he would seek out a different way to use his voice in his work.

Instead, he puts himself forward as something more integrated and vague: an evenhanded manager of grooves, vamps, collective improvisations, pulsating or twinkling atmospheres; a collaborator as much as producer; a part of a circle. The album is on Brainfeeder, the Los Angeles label run by the producer Flying Lotus, and a few musicians who contribute to the tracks are also part of that label’s cohort.

McFerrin himself sings “Florasia,” a ballad with slow electric-piano chords and choppy, beat-dragging rhythm. His father appears, singing wordlessly, on “Invisible/Visible.”

Nor is it surprising that McFerrin has been talking about “Early Riser” for at least three years. It feels like well-loved sketches built out of inspired and unplanned bits from pleasant recording sessions, either alone or with friends; both ways seem to produce equal results.

The songs are piled with details but stay conceptually skinny. The way you feel about the record depends on how much you want something to hold on to: a song, a narrative, a kind of musical thesis.

These songs don’t have a great dynamic range, or produce very surprising events. They float past you, often made of three or four chords and a trickling, curious beat.

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