Ask any music fan about what they listen to, and you’ll often hear “a little of everything.” We don’t define ourselves so much as rockers, hip hop heads or jazz fanatics. We define ourselves by our eclecticism. Perhaps that’s why Mura Masa’s self-titled major-label debut goes down so easy. It’s very much a record of its time, but lends credence to what came before it, and somehow, it simply works.
Mura Masa is the stage name of 21-year-old Guernsey native Alex Crossan. Taking the name of the Japanese swordsmith Muramasa Sengo, Crossan spent his early years in punk and hardcore groups before finding a home in the depths of YouTube holes educating himself on the discographies of groups like SBTRKT and Cashmere Cat and then working backwards through their influences. While his early work mimicked his interests, when it came time for he experienced “less of a sound-shift, and more of an attitude-shift. I’ve honed in what I actually love about making music, incorporated a lot more real instruments, and feel like I’m less worried about trying to prove myself.”
It shows. Mura Masa is a kaleidoscope of sounds – ranging from the scene setting Messy Love, starting with a sound sample of a bus arriving at the New Park Road in London. Crossan makes a rare vocal appearance full of metallic percussion, slippery synths and effected vocals. It’s part soul, part pop song, and still sounds foreign and familiar. It sounds like the future. Nuggets, featuring British singer Bonzai follows it, having a bounce and vocal melody coupled with environment and a sense of space like it could be a lost take from Disclosure’s Settle sessions. It somehow just feels English.
The gears switch pretty quick when A$AP Rocky shows up for Love$ick. The song is built on a steel drum backbeat and a sped up background vocal that has a particular breeziness that masks Rocky’s lovelorn verses. Charli XCX guests on 1 Night, which borrows elements of dancehall coupled with a serious groove backbeat. It’s a classic song about hookup regret between two friends with an earworm of a hook and whoa-oh background vocals. The album’s best features come halfway through, first with NAO’s feature on Firefly. Crossan constructs a lightweight bed of synths that nestle beautifully with NAO’s easy tone. It’s the most organic sounding song on a record that defies style. Then, Jamie Lidell appears for NOTHING ELSE! Lidell made a career gliding effortlessly from beatboxing to straight up soul revue. Here, he sounds energized commanding a slight funk track by an artist who admittedly grew up listening to him.
Mura Masa is a record that’s a lot to take in, and that’s a good thing. It’s a confident piece of work by a young artist who built a sound the sum of his influences and then some. It’s not easy to take disparate influences and marry them under the umbrella of a 45-minute album, but, somehow, he does.
Then comes the album closer Blu, a feature with the master of genre hopping, Damon Albarn. The song is a love ballad that has Crossan and Albarn trading verses. It’s a little bit Blur, a little bit sad-eyes Gorillaz. Albarn is of clear voice, Crossan’s is effected. For a few brief moments they sing in tandem. The past and the future intersect. It’s truly sublime, and tells you everything you need to know about Mura Masa in a brilliant flash.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media