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Daniel Aged - Daniel Aged Music Album Reviews

One half of the brother act Inc. makes his solo debut with a satisfying collection of ambient-funk instrumentals that sound easy without being facile and chill without ever becoming soporific.

Inc. arrived whispering. Billed as veteran session players, brothers Daniel and Andrew Aged approached their own duo as though reluctant to finally assume the spotlight. Their arrangements drew from the softest, silkiest aspects of quiet-storm R&B—muted drums, muffled bass, languid curlicues of clean-toned guitar—and their voices never rose above a murmur. Even their self-presentation felt like a publicity strategy devised by wallflowers: In photos, they looked past each other or gazed at the ground, and between 2010 and 2016 they changed the name of their act from Teen Inc. to the blandly corporate Inc., and ultimately to the inscrutable inc. no world.

They were not the only artists pursuing this aesthetic in those years. The xx, who formed as actual teenagers, banked on their underdog charm and shy innocence. Even more press-averse than the Ageds, Rhye dialed up the lust. But the brothers have not enjoyed the same success as their peers. You might think their mood-heavy, slightly anonymous brand of R&B would thrive in the era of streaming playlists. But on Spotify, where the xx’s most popular tracks have generated over 100 million plays, the majority of the songs on Inc.’s 2013 album no world have racked up streams in the low-to-mid six digits, and 2016’s As Light as Light has fared far worse. Daniel Aged’s solo debut is also unlikely to be a commercial smash: It is a collection of ambient-funk instrumentals—a niche proposition if ever there were one. But it’s also remarkably satisfying—easy without being facile, chill without being soporific. The stakes may be low, but the payoff is generous.

It takes a while to figure out what exactly you’re listening to here: The swirled synths, rough-hewn drums, and submerged melodies don’t immediately suggest obvious comparison points. If pressed, you might look to Wally Badarou’s 1984 album Echoes, a Balearic touchstone by way of the Bahamas’ Compass Point Studios; the dreamy, slowly unfurling synth pads and pneumatic funk grooves also bring to mind the more tranquil pockets of Seal’s debut album. But those similarities have more to do with mood than form. Above all, Daniel Aged’s ruminative loops and mercurial drift give the impression of a lone musician working late into the night, torn between melodic flights of fancy and analog rabbit holes.

If there is a center of gravity to this album, it is Aged’s electric bass. Lithe, lyrical, and playful, it’s muscular but never disruptive. In the opening track, “UNTLD1,” it bumbles like a fat, fuzzy bee that’s trapped in one of Konono No. 1’s amplifiers. On “BASS.INT,” it vacillates between quicksilver riffs and bright, declarative chords played high on the neck, clear as a bell. But there’s nothing showoffy about these performances; this is not an album likely to form the basis for any routines at this year’s Air Guitar World Championships (four-string category). Sometimes the bass goes into stealth mode: You can detect it worming its way through the back half of “KAWAI SQ,” but it’s an unobtrusive presence there, sneaking along under cover of jazzy keyboard noodling and springy drum programming. The beat nods toward hip-hop, but the time signature feels volatile, and in the background, a bright, blippy sample drips unsteadily, fast then slow then fast again, steadily eroding the groove.

It’s a short album, just eight tracks that wrap up in under 24 minutes, but Aged makes the most of that brief running time. Themes develop, then abruptly shift to become something else. In “BH,” wispy guitar ambience gives way to a trim bass-and-drums groove from which high-pitched synth riffs spring like soft-focus fireworks; by the closing coda, you feel like you’ve crossed two or three state lines in just four-and-a-half minutes. Aged’s pedal steel comes to the fore in “STEEL.INT” and “BREATH2,” giving these interludes the taste of glistening, liquid palate cleansers. (They also hark back to Daniel Lanois’ work on Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks; held up alongside recent albums from Lanois and Chuck Johnson, Daniel Aged suggests that pedal-steel ambient is becoming a surprisingly fruitful subgenre.)

The final track, “12.21,” is the most songlike of the bunch: A swirling, atmospheric introduction morphs into spongy, minimalist soul in the tradition of D’Angelo’s Voodoo, electric bass and wah-wah guitar warily circling each other over a crisp, skeletal drumbeat. It’s a departure from the preceding tracks, but it’s also a continuation; “12.21” suggests that Aged is working his way back to the more emphatically soulful style of inc. no world—except that it doesn’t sound much like any other music being made right now. This time around, he’s not whispering. He’s flexing his muscles and showing his teeth.

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