A collection of solid, well-produced songs does not necessarily make for an enjoyable album.
It's been five years since Slugabed, Gregory Feldwick's electronic project for Anticon, graced the world with an album. Five years ago, that album (2012's Time Team) was fresh, funny, and engaging. Now that five years have passed, we have another album, called Inherit the Earth. It is not a million miles from Time Team in its approach, though it loses some of the freshness and surprise of a debut. It is skillfully put together but seems to go out of its way to avoid a coherent message or approach.
It is definitely music. There's little more that can be said about it as a whole, however. A collection of solid, well-produced songs does not necessarily make for an enjoyable album.
Inherit the Earth is, to its credit, easy to want to like. There are things that Slugabed does with his vision of electronic music that few do, and fewer do well. For instance, jazz. Slugabed's jazz streak is always welcome, an interest outside the beaten path (save for, say, Squarepusher I guess) that gives this music some flavor. When a saxophone comes in to give "Stupid Earth" some texture, it's enough to evoke a smile. "Time 2 Let It Go" has these luscious jazz chords you can get lost in, big meaty things, mattresses of synth that the beats just kind of ride on for a few minutes. "Feeding Time", late in the album, reprises the saxophone and adds a weird, loping beat that grabs the attention. This is a style Feldwick is good at! He should ride it for longer!
Slugabed is pretty solid when vocals arrive, too. Early highlight "Gold" takes a heavily processed vocal line and somehow makes it sound pretty and organic by setting it on top of a harsh, unpredictable beat that sounds like it was assembled from the banging of household appliances. Inherit the Earth closes with "Earth Is Gone Sorry", which features Lum, and gets to its prettiness by a more conventional route: an unobtrusive beat, shiny synth work, and an understated but effective vocal performance.
These are all fine tracks, and that they make up approximately half the album should not be ignored. Still, listening to Inherit the Earth front to back always feels like a chore. There's very little tying these tracks together, and in between these tracks are other songs, some continuing Slugabed's experimental streak and some not, but none of which distinguish themselves in any clear or obvious way.
One of the worst offenders in this vein is "Infinite Wave", which starts off sounding a little bit like a take on modern classical music à la Philip Glass or Steve Reich with its repetitive four-note motifs, but the fact that those patterns simply end up pushing into a fuzzy backdrop with no interesting variation or development is a massive letdown. Rather than something adventurous, it becomes mildly annoying, and as the longest track on the album, its annoyance lingers for far too long. Other tracks fall into similar traps, like (the admittedly humorously-named) "Very Serious Puzzle", whose bendy synths never coalesce into something appealing, or "A Thousand Tiny Hands", whose pseudo-classical keyboard noodlings come off just a touch too precious.
There's little context here to these tangents; there's very little to hold on to.
It is definitely music.
There has to be something, some hook, some theme, to really make an album stick. That something is just not here. This is mostly background music for a very odd party, with some highlights that'll sound great on a mixtape. There are worse things to be, but five years later, it's too easy to wish it was so much more.