Professor Elemental, the chap-hop alias of Paul Alborough, is unbelievably prolific. In 2015, he mastered the concept album with Apequest — a cleverly constructed sci-fi jaunt with beats and wit in full supply. Next came Professor Elemental & His Amazing Friends, which put remixes, b-sides and wholly original tracks together into one unique compilation. It was only last year that Alborough, as a part of The Menagerie, released the magnificent Odd Beast. He even found time to make an appearance on our first compilation, Volume #1: Birth, with a previously unreleased track that speaks to his consistency.
School of Whimsy, which dropped at the beginning of this month, continues the development seen in the rest of his work. This latest chapter in the Professor’s ever-expanding catalogue is his most polished yet. In that way, it acts as a strangely perfect introduction to his style, years on from his debut. Instead of falling into another space opera, which was likely more rewarding for existing fans, School of Whimsy welcomes new and old listeners alike. Its opener, Words from the Headmaster, states the direction itself in a short, dense burst of verse: “It’s a little bit different from what’s come before, but familiar enough so you’re reassured!”
As such, Professor Elemental’s trademarks are all here. His distinctive voice is again at home atop Tom Caruana‘s era-spanning production. These are the features that are “familiar enough”, meaning no fan can accuse him of disappearing into some self-indulgent tangent. With that established, it’s impressive just how little he rests on his laurels throughout School of Whimsy. His verses sound invigorated, and his lyrics speak of a boundless and infectious positivity. Backed up by Caruana’s breakneck rhythms and gleefully sprinkled samples, each track rumbles with confident experience. He even approaches the subject of anxiety with strength on Nervous, which shows solidarity to the introverted.
Living up to its title, School of Whimsy sees the Professor cast as a teacher of sorts. Driven by an unbridled optimism, he encourages the creative instincts of his listeners. It’s refreshing to hear, in a world where social media allows cynicism and narcissism its loudest platform. What’s even more refreshing is his comfort with exploring his own struggles, and how he uses them to find inspiration. This is best heard on Make Good Art Pt. 2, a sequel of sorts to a namesake by The Menagerie. On this version, Willie Evans Jr. and Jesse Dangerously — who add a decidedly new flavour to the Professor’s pot — are given some welcome exposure.
A number of other collaborators make up the staff of School of Whimsy. Of course, Tom Caruana is as integral to the album as Professor Elemental himself. Near its conclusion, Tom’s House celebrates his talents and amusingly portrays his home to be a magical realm “where the furniture is musical” and “the kitchen sink sings songs beautifully suitable.” It also features the sunkissed melodies of Sabira Jade, who can be heard on Apequest and Odd Beats too. Scratching his way through the LP, Nick Maxwell makes his mark from the hooks of Comfort Zone to Good Morning, which you can see the video for below.
Ella Jean offers vocals to a couple of tracks, while Dr. Syntax — a longtime friend of the Professor and Menagerie member — shows up for a memorable turn on Housebound Hedonists. It’s always a joy to hear Syntax and Elemental sharing rhymes, and the two prove their synergy once again with one of the album’s most laid back cuts. After all, School of Whimsy is a largely upbeat affair, complete with fast-faced percussion, jangling ukuleles and twirling piano loops.
School of Whimsy still fits in time to add to Professor Elemental’s personal mythology. Interestingly, these tend to be the tracks that adopt a slower pace and darker style. Whether handling an invasion of squirrels (Sqrl) or finding himself maliciously cloned One Too Many times, there’s plenty of delving into the Professor’s world amongst more general themes. Taking a step back from the heavier storytelling that came with Apequest, this album uses the occasional humorous yarn as a release valve for its overarching curriculum.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album sound this effortless without ever feeling lazy. That balance is its greatest success, and manifests in the ferocious thoughtfulness he tangles into its playful atmosphere. School of Whimsy is simultaneously weighty and bouncy, and quite simply impossible to dislike. By finding a way to build on his established empire and offer new fans equal delight, Professor Elemental has hit on his strongest statement.
Professor Elemental recently wrote a piece for our latest zine, Issue #2: Breath. You can find out more about the issue here, and pre-order a copy here. Last year, he contributed a previously unreleased track to Volume #1: Birth, our debut compilation tape. We also interviewed him for the second season of our podcast!