Egospect is the debut album by twenty-year-old Wellington-based multi-instrumentalist and singer Daniel McBride, more commonly known as Sheep, Dog & Wolf. This album has to be one of the hardest I have ever reviewed, mainly because there is so much going on musically across the album and even within single tracks. McBride certainly knows no boundaries when it comes to musical composition and exploring different sounds, and on this album, he certainly goes all out to make a significant musical statement straight off the bat.
The sound of this album is quite hard to describe, but I will give it a go and describe the instrumentation side of things as alt-folk experimental jazz, while vocally McBride sounds like a mash-up of Gregorian chant and early-70s Queen in what is a heavily layered kind of classical/opera vocal sound which also comes across like vocal exercises in small bursts of flourishes. I also hear a bit of prog rock in the music, with Yes coming to mind in the vocals and King Crimson in the instrumentation. Aside from the theatrical vocals, it is the quality of the instrumentation and McBride’s quite breath-taking ability to play every instrument on this album which makes this album worth a listen. According to the liner notes of the CD, McBride plays electric and acoustic guitar, saxophone, drums, bass guitar, clarinet, violin, cello, euphonium and French horn, a list of instruments that appears like a min-orchestra of type and leaves one gasping as to how much music ability and talent it requires to play such a diverse array of instruments. Aside from the unique vocals and smorgasbord of instruments, what makes this album even more spectacular is how McBride recorded it pretty much in his bedroom, something which gives the music quite a low-fi sound and jagged appearance, which all in all suits the stylistic diversity of the music on here.
As for the tracks themselves, well the albums kicks off with the track “Breathe”, which does a good job in encompassing the overall sound of the album and all of the key elements which appear throughout. This track to my ears sound like alt-jazz set to Gregorian chant and builds up nicely from an instrumental section at the start into a gigantic climax with a multi-tracked vocal section, before a decrescendo in the second half. “Breathe” is followed by the standout track for me “Glare”, which has a bit of a neo-psychedelic feel to it but without losing the jazz and classical influences. Again this track is brilliant in building up to an enormous crescendo of vocals which sound as if they are going to burst through the speakers. “Problems/Canvas” is a folky sort of track which floats along in a low-key sort of way before out of nowhere those layered vocals return to push the song to another level and in yet another completely different direction. It is these sorts of twists and turns within tracks that in many ways makes Egospect the album that is it and such an intriguing album to listen to.
The middle of the album moves swiftly along with “Not Aquatic”, which is quite an experimental track that appears quite loose structurally, with McBride playing around with different textures, layers and song structure in general. At this point I think it is important to note the skill and ability of McBride as a composer willing to takes risks with different song structures and sounds within single tracks, ensuring that no single track sounds the same. “Ablutophobia” is another track that showcases little moments of stylistic diversity, moving from jazz to folk to classical all on one track, while “Nothing, Probably” is an acoustic folk track which allows the listener to have a breather from the intense nature of some of the other bigger sounding tracks on the album. This track also showcases McBride’s softer side and how he can also play the singer-songwriter role as well as the jazz composer extraordinaire. The album comes to an end with the acoustic ballad “An Incomprehensive Catalogue” and finally the piece de resistance, title track “Egospect” which is like the “A Day in the Life” of the album. “Egospect” starts off with a chorus of vocals chants, before kicking into another alt-folk prog-jazz track, finishing the album as it began with a diverse range of styles and sounds confined within the limits of a six-minute composition.
Egospect is an amazingly complex album musically with some incredible instrumentation and vocals, while the composition and structure of the songs on display is incredible. This album really should not work as the music appears as a mash-up of several diverse styles incorporated together in combination with classical sounding vocals and topped off by the fact it was recorded in a bedroom. But amazingly, it does, keeping the listener intrigued about where a track will go next. A complex, unusual but clever debut by McBride, that showcases his musical abilities and ear for sound, making me very interested to see where he will go next on.