California brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged, collaboratively known as Inc., like to keep it chronologically ambiguous. Their early singles, released as ‘Teen, Inc.’ in 2010, divulged a heavy Prince influence as well as stranger, post-punk tendencies, sound like they could have easily been recorded in the ‘80s, and they’re experimental enough in vision and recorded with enough of a lo-fi aesthetic that it seems totally plausible that you could have gone twenty-five or thirty years without hearing them. Those early recordings had a surreal, far-away demo quality that helped get the unknown-vintage vibe across.
On their new LP, No World, the Aged brothers come across less like genre-bending throwbacks than smooth operators from the near future. Experienced, virtuoso recording-session instrumental mercenaries with impeccable resumes, their instrumental prowess is second to none and vacuum-sealed tight. Playing with an economy of phrasing typically reserved for much older cats and a lean, mean R&B sound that heavily emphasises the “R,” No World finds them exploring production as a means of expression rather than a means to an end. The high-pitched vocals, which often recall a certain purple-wearing Minnesotan, are drenched in reverb and floated above jams that somehow play both ethereal and funky. A too-obvious reference point for the shoegaze-y R&B sound on No World would be The Weeknd, but Inc. downplay the songwriting and stress the playing and decidedly cosmic production, for a ghostly effect closer to How To Dress Well or Map Of What Is Effortless-era Telefon Tel Aviv.
The downside, of course, of deriving most of your feeling from sound rather than song is that there are points where No World comes across as a bit lacking in dynamics- almost redundant. The vocals, while hummable and melodically pleasing, are almost completely unintelligible (after listening to the album 31 times and catching a live set, all within a week, I still don’t know a single lyric). Fortunately, it’s more of a minor gripe than a deal-breaker, as the middle segment of the album contains the strongest tracks. Most notable are the churning mid-tempo workout “Five Days” and the awesome ninety-second interlude “Your Tears”, containing a monstrously funky bassline and a gentle nod towards the demo-quality aesthetic of their earlier work.
No World isn’t a perfect record by any means, but it’s a charming, understated piece very much worth a few spins. Less-traditional R&B has been getting to be a crowded field over the past 18 months, with The Weeknd, Miguel and Frank Ocean becoming bona fide megastars and slew of good albums coming out. Inc.’s much-anticipated debut full-length won’t redefine anything or change that game, but No World is certainly good enough to imply that their next record very well might.