In the first album review for WFA, Nazareth delves deep into the journey behind the creation of Early Riser by Taylor McFerrin; exploring the influences and much more. Have a read and listen to the album on Spotify below.
A slew of synth, mixed to sound-like time travel, plays. It’s steady; heavier than most album beginnings but still possesses a sense of destination. We’re going somewhere with this album, somewhere we’ve never been before. The drum machine kicks in and cymbals, bells, and a host of other percussion sounds take over: enlivening the song with a necessary pace and rhythm. These percussion sounds are reminiscent of jazz and R&B beats, establishing a driving groove that doesn’t go away throughout the album. Light drifty vocals enter saying ‘I want to know you.’ And we do. We want to know more of what this album has in store from the moment it starts.
Taylor McFerrin’s first full length album Early Riser is a spin on styles all too classic. He is remixing and recomposing our tastes to align with the newest technologies music has been presented with. It’s clear that his knowledge of music is vast; his usage of jazz tropes and R&B riffs is masterful. I half expected, because of his namesake, that he would be well versed in the R&B and Jazz world. His father, Bobby McFerrin, one of the most exquisite musicians of the 20th century, must have rubbed some of his magic music powers on him. Even when listening to Taylor’s music, you can hear some of his dad in him. The synth riffs, the heavy bass hits, the twinkly voice work, it’s all reminiscent of songs like “Remembrance” and “Friends.” They both possess the soul quaking groove that kept audiences on the edges of their seats through the late 20th century. Fans of Bobby lived for the constant soul he put into his work. Taylor has done the same.
This is not to say that Taylor lives under the shadow of his father. On the contrary, he is marching past him and making a stake for himself. Taylor is a millennial artist. He has technology and modern sensibility on his side. The album screams for an audience that differs greatly from Bobby’s work. Where Bobby loses younger audiences for too much old school groove, Taylor recaptures them. With the use of all kinds of electronic sounds to the barely audible lyrics, this album is aligning itself with the likes of its electronic contemporaries.
Early Riser is decidedly a mixture of electronic and jazzy R&B. Songs like “Already There” demonstrate complicated jazz bass solos and piled high 7th chords, shifting the songs emotional tempo from left to right in a second’s notice. “Decisions”, featuring the vocals of Emily King, an acoustic soul singer, portray a more futuristic take on old school R&B, with dragging synth and twinkly bell sounds reminiscent of computers and video games. “The Antidote” features Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote, an Australian band known for mixing electronic sounds with polyrhythmic jazz funk. The song is a sort of guitar driven funk, encased in drum machine beats and atmospheric keyboard. The album also features the likes of Robert Glasper, famed jazz pianist, and Thundercat, a bassist and producer who is steadily gaining speed in both the jazz and electronic worlds. With these tracks McFerrin accomplishes something a myriad of artists are seeking to do. The collision of these two worlds seems to be a goal many musicians are trying to achieve, many times unsuccessfully. With the recent oversaturation of the alternative R&B genre, what drew audiences to an electrified version of classic R&B quickly became a free-for-all, a sort of musical dump ground. Artists from all over released songs with the same four chords and dark dreary production, hoping to become part of a new legacy. This genre became unspecific; what made both electronic music and R&B brilliant was lost for the hype of a new genre. Early Riser sought to take what was great about both and put them together. And it did.
Taylor McFerrin has clearly learned a lot from his father. One can only imagine what living in that household must have been like. Constant singing, music lessons every Wednesday and Saturday. The legacy that has been passed from father is great. It holds decades of artistry, pain, resolution, and discovery. Taylor now marches forth with it into the new frontier of music, vowing to align a fresh understanding of the world with its classic roots. The torch has been passed from one McFerrin to the next. Bobby doesn’t have to worry because the future is in good hands.