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September 9, 2013 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Egospect by Sheep, Dog & Wolf

Egospect by Sheep, Dog & Wolf (AKA Daniel McBride) was released on 23 August, heralded the night before by the first-ever live Sheep, Dog & Wolf performance at Puppies. This was an event attended by a horde of hip Wellingtonians and half the population of Weir House 2012 (McBride’s hall last year). Originally based in Auckland, Daniel had his start playing drums in punk band Bandicoot, before moving into the art of solo bedroom recording.

These bedroom recordings became the first Sheep, Dog and Wolf EP—Ablutophobia, which he managed to record in his last year of high school. This led to a) Sheep, Dog & Wolf signing with Lil’ Chief Records and b) a lot of buzz about Daniel McBride as a ‘young talent’. This buzz is ridiculed in Simon Sweetman’s review of Egospect: “better mention he’s 19 too because everyone else seems to think that’s super important”. I agree that the album shouldn’t get any ‘free points’ because of Daniel’s age. This is where the consonance between Sweetman’s highly critical review and my opinion ends though.

Taking from his wide array of influences, wealth of available instruments and fertile musical imagination, McBride has created a coherent, exciting work. Egospect is filled with complicated arrangements. From the first track, it is made clear that this is not pop music. The opener ‘Breathe’ begins with a drum solo laying down a time signature I can only approximate as 11/4. From here, the track bounces onto a path typical for songs on the album—repeated instrumental parts added on top of one another, building like house music. This climaxes into silence, before layered vocals ask: “Am I able?” These stark vocal moments are where we see the influence of Kiwi indie-punk bands like So So Modern and Knives at Noon. Egospect is where the songwriting sensibilities of indie-punk meet the textures of jazz and folk.

Polyphony is a hallmark of the album, with horns, vocals and guitar leaping off each other to create rich soundscapes. Every track has a few variations in the selection of instruments used—standouts being the whistling in ‘Guaranteed Defective’, the percussion in ‘Egospect’, and the swelling bass sound in ‘Fades’. McBride doesn’t treat vocals as the centre of the music, but uses them as another instrument in his personal orchestra. His singing varies between rich overdubbed harmonies (such as the church/gospel introduction to the title track) and excitable rhythmic melodies (found in ‘Ablutophobia’). McBride’s voice might bring up comparisons to Beirut’s Zach Condon, or Bon Iver. Lyrics deal with simple frustrations—expectations, lost loves, etc. These concise themes show another connection between Sheep, Dog & Wolf and New Zealand indie bands.

The strongest songs on the album come when the complex arrangements are balanced with strong hooks, as in ‘Not Aquatic’, ‘Ablutophobia’ and ‘Egospect’. All of these are built on deviously catchy melodies. I wouldn’t suggest listening to ‘Egospect’ if you don’t want “Maybe it’s better than I thought after all” ringing through your head for the next 24 hours.

Finding some kind of uncharted middle-ground between Gil Evans’ arrangements, Beirut, and Cut Off Your Hands, Egospect is an exciting album to say the least. McBride has pulled off an extremely complex task in creating this genre-stretching debut. The next generation in New Zealand music is (in Daniel’s words) “Not so bad”. Pay what you want for the album on his Bandcamp:


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