Taylor McFerrin: Early Riser – Review

Taylor McFerrin, the oldest son of Grammy award winner artist Bobby McFerrin, released his first full length LP titled Early Riser earlier this month.  The album, which was released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder record label, finds the multi-talented McFerrin spinning tales of love and love lost over beats influenced by various genres and periods of music.

This wonderfully cohesive body of work begins with ‘Postpartum’, a down-tempo record, which draws comparisons to a Robert Glasper record, where we find Taylor McFerrin singing softly about how he wants to love someone but cannot because of something else being in the way.  The song’s melody and McFerrin’s words convey a sense of longing and confusion.  This vibe changes immediately with ‘Degrees of Light’ which conveys a happier, childlike vibe to signify the feeling which tends to accompany the early stages of a relationship.  After that, the mood shifts again with ‘The Antidote’ featuring Hiatus Kaiyote’s Nai Palm.

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The rest of the album follows a pattern with a mixture of electronic and jazz inspired instrumental songs intermixed among soul music inspired songs.  Listeners can almost think of this album as a tour through a house with many rooms.  The lyrical songs serve to give you the meat and potatoes of the story Taylor McFerrin wishes to tell while the instrumental songs serve to move you from one room to the next and set the scene for what is to come.

‘Florasia’ finds Taylor McFerrin offering the listener his neo-soul influenced vocals while singing about a relationship gone wrong.  Listeners can hear Flying Lotus’ influence heavily on ‘Stepps’ as the song transitions from electronic to jazz and back to electronic while setting the stage for ‘Already There’.  ‘Already There’ is a star studded collaboration with Robert Glasper, Thundercat, and Marcus Gilmore which leads into ‘Decisions’ featuring Emily King.  This song is perhaps the album’s biggest standout track with King’s silky vocals perfectly complementing the minimalist, soulful composition provided by McFerrin.  ‘Place In My Heart’ featuring RYAT details the pain of broken trust and the toll it takes on a relationship.

The penultimate track, ‘Invisible/Visible’, finds Taylor McFerrin collaborating with Bobby McFerrin and Brazilian pianist, Cesar Mariano, on what is the album’s most stripped down and soulful track yet.  This song begins with a beat reminiscent of Flying Lotus and a J. Dilla inspired melody.  Bobby’s vocals add a jazzy twist to the song as the beat fades, followed by the piano chords of Mariano who is backed by a cellist and a drummer.  The album then ends with the slightly haunting and free form jazz influenced ‘PLS DNT LSTN’.

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Overall, Early Riser is a carefully crafted debut LP which seamlessly blends synth and soul, as others have tried this before him with mixed results.  Taylor McFerrin uses this ability to blend two seemingly opposed elements to masterfully spin a tale of highs and lows almost anyone can relate to in some way.  Listeners can only hope other artists will follow McFerrin’s lead on how to create a soulful debut that mixes soulful sounds from the past with the tools and trends of the present.  The current musical landscape would be much better off with the creativity it would inspire.