Mura Masa: Mura Masa review – a cutting-edge swordsmith

(Anchor Point/Polydor)
Electronic wizard Alex Crossan conjures shivers and warmth on his star-studded debut

It gets harder every second for an artist to nail their own signature sound. With every bedroom bleepist tinkering away on Ableton, and with every track that goes up on SoundCloud – there are around 120m on there, as the platform wobbled financially earlier this week – the fewer niches there are to exploit.

A veteran poster on SoundCloud, Mura Masa – 21-year-old Alex Crossan – entered industry consciousness around 2014-5 with a flurry of liquid digitals and arpeggiating marimbas. Just as, from 2009 onwards, the sound of rippling steel pans became a marker that Jamie xx was producing (or that Jamie xx was being ripped off), Mura Masa’s arsenal of Japanese flutes, African thumb pianos and synthetic quicksilver quickly became unmistakable.

Like Jamie xx, or the early speeded-up-soul-sample Kanye West productions for Jay-Z, or the 21st-century pop-house of first-album-era Disclosure, you can hear Mura Masa a mile off. Named after a deranged Japanese swordsmith of the 16th century, the Guernsey native manages to combine cutting-edge club shivers with a welcoming warmth. He is sensitive to the charge of cultural appropriation of his exotic sounds, but says he’s doing it with respect.

The videos for his tracks – like the fabulous What If I Go featuring Bonzai – are all part of the concept, featuring young Londoners of various hues and proclivities partying photogenically, taking drugs convivially and having sex with love. This is not a dark record, but one whose interstitial found sounds and international guest list celebrate Crossan’s adopted London.

Watch the video for All Around the World.

One downside: a great many of the tracks on this long-awaited debut have already been hammered into the afterlife: Firefly, Crossan’s excellent breakout track with Nao (13m-plus YouTube views), came out in May 2015. Love$ick (29m-plus), a tremendous single with A$AP Rocky (just one of the heavyweight guests on board this debutant’s record) came out last year. The latter track was originally a jazzy, tropical instrumental on Mura Masa’s 2015 Somebody Somewhere EP called Lovesick Fuck.

More recently, All Around the World, with Kanye protege Desiigner, is the one track that has glistened less brightly. Crossan says Gorillaz’s Demon Days (2005) was the album that galvanised his own cross-curricular pop ambitions. Mura Masa’s pixie dust prompted Damon Albarn to seek Crossan out for Gorillaz’s most recent album, but instead ended up closing Mura Masa’s record with a bittersweet vocal on Blu.

There may not be many of them, but the unheard tracks do not disappoint. Prince-derived funk? Don’t mind if Mura Masa does, in the company of Jamie Lidell. Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Letissier shines against repurposed snippets of drum’n’bass on Second 2 None.

The unknown quantities just edge out the famous, however. Recently unveiled, a bassy bouncer of a track called Helpline features the emerging 21-year-old Tom Tripp. Bemoaning his sobriety, the loss of his phone and the lack of funds in his NatWest account, Tripp is a keeper – and proof that Mura Masa isn’t just a mercurial talent, but a talent scout too.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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