[xrr rating=3.5/5]The first thing you’re likely to notice about the debut album by all-star production outfit Quakers is that it has 41 fucking tracks. That’s an intimidating number no matter how you look at it, but luckily Quakers, who feature Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, are smart enough to keep that epic sprawl at least fleet footed and relatively slim. Their eponymous debut is undoubtedly ambitious but the takeaway from it is that it’s a bravely huge work, both in sheer quantity and in what it’s attempting to achieve.

Mostly centered around Barrow and long-standing Portishead engineer 7-Stu-7 as well as the Australian producer Katalyst, Quakers’ aesthetic is somewhere between trip-hop with an emphasis on the hop and the grimy style that label Stones Throw has become known for. Quakers have structured the debut like a mixtape, with the work mostly flowing together as one long track that takes unexpected style diversions and features a global roster of guests behind the mic, including Dead Prez, Booty Brown and a veritable United Nations of up and comers. It’s those newcomers who arguably come off best on the album, treated as they are to outstanding production courtesy of Quakers and a bright, beaming spotlight at their disposal. Right off the bat, Synato Watts kills it on “Big Cat,” the first real track of the album and one of the most cohesive aesthetic statements from the group.

Dark and ominous in the way you’ve come to expect from Barrow-related projects, “Big Cat” explores the middleground between Wu-Tang Clan and the Doomtree collective, with menacing verses and an unexpectedly melodic hook at the center. Even more surprising is what follows, the Guilty Simpson starring “Fitta Happier,” which reimagines Radiohead’s “National Anthem” as a big brassy banger, completely demolishing the previous best appropriation of the track by Lupe Fiasco. Looser and goofier, “What Chew Want” twists some Ol’ Dirty Bastard phrasing and adds on rude horns and a effortlessly addictive bassline as Tone Tank throws down verses that could be Das Racist auditions.

Veterans like the Pharcyde’s Booty Brown, by contrast, get screwed; Brown in particular is left with “TV Dreaming,” one of the weaker, less imaginative moments on the album, a mess of television samples and a weak soul track. Dead Prez likewise get the short end of the stick, treated as they are to the bluntly named “Soul Power” and its glitched out chipmunk soul. Both of these vets are situated towards the end of the debut as well, and it’s here that it starts to buckle under its own weight. The best moment in the final third is arguably Coin Locker Kid’s “Get Live,” which is so busy it threatens to fall apart every second, the meandering verses half keeping it together, half pushing it closer to disaster. No matter how many times you hear it, it never ceases to be surprising that it manages to work all the way to the end.

Part of the disappointment with the ending is how little experimentation it shows off in comparison to the first half. In its early going, Quakers’ debut features truly captivating deviations from the norm, like the synth heavy Frank Nitty track “Dark City Lights,” which accomplishes more in a little over a minute than the last handful of tracks on the album do combined. Both “Dark City Lights” and King Magnetic’s “The Turk” explore underused elements of dark wave and ’60s organ music, injecting an otherwise organic album with a hefty dose of scrapheap electronic attitude.

Even with the disappointing ratio of true experimentation to tried-and-true styles towards the end of the album, there’s no denying that it’s a breath of fresh air and an imminently noteworthy opening salvo from a production team that has a lot to offer the genre. It’s easy to see why the group got excited enough to unleash 41 tracks all at once, and it’s just as easy to see how, with the air cleared, they could rein themselves in enough to follow it up with a more cohesive, streamlined sophomore effort.

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