Max McFerren channels digital excess into a fantastic dance music album.
It's worth saying upfront: fair play to him. It's especially easy to get carried away with this type of palette or create music too saccharine to enjoy. McFerren deserves praise for usually knowing when too much is too much—or when too much is not enough. Which isn't to say things have been perfect. A lack of focus has sometimes blighted his music, while the cumulative effect of using so many lurid colours has sometimes left his tracks seeming plastic or hollow. Scrolls, his first record for Numbers, is so superior in each of these respects that his past work might be considered as an enjoyable if flawed prelude to this fantastic album.
McFerren recently moved from New York, where he'd been a resident at Bossa Nova Civic Club, to South Carolina. It's tempting to explain the newfound depth and subtle contemplation on Scrolls through an imagined scene, with McFerren meditatively gazing over a windswept rural plain before switching on his studio, inspired. But the more mundane truth might be that he's been developing this style for years and has gotten really good at it. In every respect—from the writing to the production levels to the raw ideas—Scrolls is an improvement on Complete Walkthru and Social Security, his past two Complete Walkthru albums.
The dance floor tracks are based around one or two novel themes, which are embellished using arresting methods. "Honey Moon," with a piano similar to the one from "Weak Become Heroes" by The Streets, "Family By '22," which is like early Detroit techno viewed through McFerren's lens, and the sprightly broken-beat "Lean In" are all particularly great. McFerren still likes to invite the suggestion of poor taste—"Getting Ridiculous," for example, has a frog-like vocal as one of its hooks—but the album shows enough restraint to convert people who'd usually steer clear of more maximal electronic sounds.
The ambient and downtempo tracks are where McFerren makes his biggest artistic gains. "Just Like We Like It" achieves significant pathos through what's essentially a synthesiser solo. "Leavin' Church Early" and "Linking Book" are futuristic soundscapes inviting enough to suggest the coming technological revolution might not end so badly for us humans. About halfway into "NYC" the main synth line is interrupted by the whirring of machines and strange digital detritus before the melody returns as though nothing had happened. That such a cavalier move makes total sense is a decent indication that McFerren has created a work of originality and a personal high-water mark.