August 16 2014
For months Taylor McFerrin's debut album, Early Riser, has sat on my list of things to fully digest, right next to Philosophy In The Bedroom and that pizza slice of questionable origin sitting in my fridge. After a worthy album comes to my attention for review the process is (usually) quite simple; I duct-tape myself to a chair at one of numerous local coffee shops, proceed to shower myself in coffee (occasionally I'll use a croissant as a loofah) and listen to the record to the point of delirium. Only after violently pulling my ear buds from their fixed position and dumbly staring at a wall for another 45 minutes do I have the review mapped-out in my mind. And Voila! it is done. But for some reason this process failed me approximately fifteen times when it came to McFerrin's album (if you are wondering, the answer is yes, he is the son of Bobby McFerrin); I'd be halfway through my routine and next thing I knew I was pondering existential truths and blue-printing a luxurious carpeted cat castle for my cat on a napkin. After the conflux of emotions (ranging mostly between journalistic depression and self-doubt) which I limped through for months, I realized that I was not a procrastinating low-life hack but rather another man who could just pass the blame down the line! It was McFerrin's fault and his alone.
That I can place the entirety of the blame on McFerrin is indicative not of my dastardly ways, but of how fluid and fully-realized Early Riser is. The fact that it took McFerrin nearly half a decade to finish the album, despite his proclivity for early wake-up calls, represents an admirably rare perfectionism and dedication not often found in the era of excessive blogging. On Early Riser, released through Flying Lotus' excellent Brainfeeder imprint, McFerrin meshes songs from his deep, yet largely unpublished, catalogue into sounding like that pleasant purple planet from your dreams, where the soft-toned, smiling flowers hum soulful jazz melodies and the aliens compliment you on your “groovy” shirt while riding cooly by on their space-bicycles. McFerrin's greatest accomplishment is one that is rarely obtained and wholly original; he manages to create his own world with his sounds while simultaneously inspiring and encouraging his listeners to craft their own special space. McFerrin's palette is seemingly boundless, expertly employing everything from his lexicon of musical influence as well as smartly inviting Thundercat's nasty bass-lines and soul-soothsayers Nai Palm, RYAT, Emily King and his father, it occurred to me that McFerrin may have secretly composed this album for an intergalactic symphonic competition.
While Early Riser could probably inspire think-pieces by the dozen and be picked piece-meal apart by jazz and hip-hop scholars alike, I think McFerrin had something much more elusive and simple in mind. Ultimately my long-time inability to write about this album revealed to me an important lesson that us art critics often forget to embrace: sometimes you are better off allowing yourself to be inspired by the art, rather than picking it apart. As for my initial attempts I seem to have forgotten that it's not always pertinent to exhaustingly evaluate life when it's out there waiting to be enjoyed. Much like life, McFerrin's Early Riser is not so much about the goal or the complete idea, it's about the process of experiencing it and having the wherewithal to cherish it while wrapped within it's fleeting beauty. Lucky for us McFerrin has accomplished something that can be played whenever we need reminding of this.
Oh and here's the kicker, it's only his first album.