"Birdfeathers," the opening track to No Regular Play's debut album, encapsulates why the duo are one of Wolf + Lamb's most tantalising prospects. Like their early EP tracks, it less proceeds than glides. All cosmic synths, cooing vocals and Greg Paulus's ethereal trumpet curlicues, even in its apparent stillness it has a limber bounce. Born in Minnesota, but long-term New Yorkers, Paulus and Nick DeBruyn are, in their clever, classically-trained way, capable of fusing Dilla hip-hop beats, jazz and electronic music in a manner which speaks to clubland while, atmospherically, evoking a swelteringly hot day in 1960s Harlem. At their best they are a funky, elusive heat haze.
For their debut album, however, they seem to have reined in their abstract tendencies to deliver a more direct set of something approaching "songs." Songs in which their love of classic electro, R&B and hip-hop edge their fondness for techno. This is never less than fun. "Won't Quit" smartly re-treads New Jack Swing, just as the title track, despite its tired "hunter / prey" metaphor, is an effective slice of pulsating digital house.
At times, though, when they toggle between slick electro funk and smooth soul ("Nameless" and, to an extent, "Keep It Right" and "Card Game"), they begin to sound like a refined Chromeo. Which was never the point of No Regular Play. Or Chromeo. Likewise, the good-natured backpack-rap of "Kickback" or "Never Had Enough," which you could almost file as acid jazz, is too polite and ineffectual. There is a fine line between restraint, good taste and banality. Rather than kicking back, No Regular Play might have been better off struggling to conjure the dense atmospheres in which the album's best tracks are shrouded: wriggling dreamscape "The Answer" or "El Dorado," which is still sufficiently thick and heady. Overall, Endangered Species sounds a little coy, too eager to please. Perhaps something more radical was needed from the duo who helped the Minnesota Orchestra rework their track "Rain (All Day)" as a 25-minute improvisational piece? Whether or not these 11 tracks accurately represent what No Regular Play are about, we shall see.