McFerrin’s ambidextrous production of both synthesized and real instruments initially impresses. In “The Antidote” there’s a moment where silky woodwind loops, fizzles and melts away into a muddy synth puddle so organically you can picture the clarinet liquefying around vocalist Nai Palm’s slippery deliverance. On opener “Postpartum”, cymbal swells and slow-burning synths exercise McFerrin’s restraint as much as his ability to release it at the right moment, whilst the rhythmic mix on “Degrees of Light” feels agonised over; every tone carefully constructed and infinitely precious.


Perhaps it’s McFerrin’s fear of creating a record that - unlike his improvised live music - will exist forever. With only a couple of tracks released since 2006’s Broken Vibes EP, interviews with McFerrin years back discuss Early Riser as if it were finished, only for it to be pushed back. This album has been a long time coming, but tracks like “Florasia” quickly make you forget anything but the music. An unreserved love song that oozes classic soul with pride, McFerrin’s own vocal grounds “Florasia” with the kind of timeless glaze that his electronic contemporaries rarely pull off, or don’t commit the years to get right.


Then there’s moments which hold a stark contrast to this perfectionism. Improvisation cuts through the Glasper/Thundercat-featuring “Already There” and the “Visible” part of “Invisible/Visible”, whilst several haphazard electronic ditties extend the tracklist more than the running time. These risk giving off a sense of impatience rather than musical merit; the Karriem Riggins-esque stutter of “4AM” another cornerstone McFerrin needed to acknowledge, yet struggled to fit in.


Some tracks own their minutes effortlessly (“Decisions”, for instance); but others feel disjointed. At times there’s a lack of direction to Early Riser that stems from McFerrin’s own spinning compass of genres and instruments, but there’s also such concentrated brilliance in individual tracks to push Early Riser over and above just being another Brainfeeder release. What excites most is that we’re only getting a slither of what Taylor McFerrin has to offer with this album. The album was not created lightly, and by no means deserves to be skimmed, but there’s a diversity and thirst within this album that stands to keep Early Riser remembered for some time, and will no doubt lead McFerrin to achieve the same.
  • Review by Rory Foster