McDonald decorates his tracks with opulent colour and texture. You could compare his approach to John Talabot, who crafts beats that make their home somewhere between a crowded dance floor and a bedroom. That style is evident from the outset on "Airgoid Meall," which comes together slowly—first a flowing, cosmic synth, a gentle pulse and then, at the right moment, a beautifully textured arp, all underpinned by a hummable bassline. It's otherworldly and effortless, like Balearic music from outer space.
In Waves lands on ESP Institute, the LA label run by Lovefingers, who has a similar approach to the dance floor: rhythms aren't always the centre of attention, and sometimes they don't exist at all. That feeling is underlined by the album's shorter, more playful tracks, like the bouncy "Liobasta," the misty synth of "Three 2BU" and the beatless build of "Meserole Ave." These tunes could work in a DJ set but also stand on their own, with loads of ambient detail. Only the piano-led "Gualainn" feels like a mere interlude, though it also highlights McDonald's enviable grasp of melody.
In between those tidbits are the dynamic workouts McDonald made his name on, encompassing gentle funkiness ("Weh-In"), bleep techno ("Skylark"), exoticism ("Plasma Nomad") and full-throated prog house ("Offline"). They're almost all great, but here, sandwiched between more reflective passages, they can feel shoehorned in, or even too long. Length is the only real issue with In Waves. At 78 minutes, it demands a lot of attention. If it's an embarrassment of riches, it can also feel unfocused, which might come down to the album's origin. Lovefingers was apparently sent a trove of tracks from McDonald and then pieced together an album out of them. It makes for some odd sequencing, such as putting the fast-paced "Jump" at the end of the record, ending on a cliffhanger rather than a resolved note.
Deep and introspective as it is, McDonald's music seems perfect for the album format. In Waves' opening run, from "Airgoid Meall" to the peaceful grooves of "Years Away" and "Liobasta," is a beautifully unfurling triptych that later gets sideswiped by "Weh-In." But mostly, the tracklist is a mix of club cuts and ambient diversions, an overwhelming package from a prolific producer. That said, McDonald's continuous stream of music, and his enviable hit rate, are just part of the mystique he's cultivated over the years.