Mura Masa: Demon Time review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week

The producer’s relentless UK garage-style bombardment feels like standing next to a tween frantically scrolling through TikTok without earbuds

The effect of Covid on British pop music has proved a curious thing. The expected glut of pandemic pop – introverted music powered by loneliness, woe at the state of the world and existential dread – never materialised. Instead, pop looked outward: perhaps as a natural reaction to the privations of the times, or perhaps, more pragmatically, taking note that the big hits during lockdown suggested audiences weren’t terribly interested in wallowing in what had happened. The past few years have been dancefloors and disco balls all the way. Seven months after Britain’s final pandemic restrictions ended, the charts are noticeably devoid of introspection: if anyone did make music like that while stuck at home or staying two metres away from everyone else, they seem to have kept it to themselves. Even Lewis Capaldi, the multi-platinum breakout star of pre-Covid sadboy angst, has returned with a single that leavens his usual brand of romantic calamity with something like a dance beat.

Demon Time album cover.
Demon Time Photograph: PR

It’s a shift mirrored in the saga of the third album by Mura Masa, as 26-year-old Guernsey-born producer Alex Crossan prefers to be known, who rose to fame five years ago when tropical house was in vogue, before going off-piste with his guitar-heavy second album RYC. His initial thought during Covid was to follow RYC with “a bunch of ponderous and introspective music”. His second thought was apparently to give up music entirely and become a potter. His third was to try the stuff that comprises Demon Time, which couldn’t be less ponderous or introspective if it tried. It’s not just an album that features a song called Prada (I Like It), it’s an album on which a song called Prada (I Like It) ranks among its more profound statements, where even a solitary throwback to the melancholy style of its predecessor – 2gether, which carries something of Radiohead circa The Bends in its DNA – finds itself unexpectedly disrupted by an incongruous grinding synth drop.

2gether aside, Demon Time’s primary musical influence is obviously UK garage, or more specifically the ultra-poppy strain of UK garage that hit big in the early 00s charts: the Sunship mix of Mis-Teeq’s All I Want, Liberty X’s Artful Dodger-produced Thinking It Over, Shanks & Bigfoot’s Sweet Like Chocolate. To the kind of toothsome melodies that prevailed on those tracks, it adds deliberately cluttered beats, a frenetic array of found sounds – video game synths, please-replace-the-handset-and-try-again beeps, children giggling, mobile phone ringtones and text message alerts – and a plethora of guest vocalists.

Mura Masa’s video for Blessing Me with Pa Salieu and Skillibeng.

Mura Masa has always displayed an impressive ability to round up big names for his albums’ supporting cast lists – Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell, A$AP Rocky, Damon Albarn and Charli XCX among them – and the same is true here. Slowthai turns in a particularly bug-eyed performance on Up All Week, a track that references Faithless’s 1995 pop-trance anthem Insomnia. On Blessing Me, Pa Salieu does battle with Jamaican MC Skillibeng: the former has the Auto-Tune, but the latter is armed with an impressive array of euphemisms for his penis. He starts out with the straightforward “cocky” and ends up comparing it to an Amazon Fire stick: given that an Amazon Fire stick is barely three inches long, this is a metaphor that perhaps expresses something unintended.

Elsewhere, Lil Uzi Vert, Shygirl and PinkPantheress are crowded onto Bbycakes, which makes the pop-garage influence explicit by borrowing its chorus from Baby Cakes, a 2004 chart-topper by one-hit-wonders 3 of a Kind, itself a track so lightweight it made Sweet Like Chocolate sound like Suicide. But that’s clearly not lightweight enough. Here, the female voices singing the hook are sped up into a helium cutesiness that’s very of the moment. Presumably born out of the need to fit them into brief video clips, speeding tracks up is now an ongoing social media trend, spawning Spotify playlists packed with squeaky versions of everything from Ellie Goulding’s Lights to Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie

It’s a relentless, wilfully sugary bombardment that stands or falls by the quality of the songwriting. When the tunes are strong, it’s cheerily flimsy fun, as on the Erika de Caiser-sung E-motions, or Tonto, which features Honduran vocalist Isabella Lovestory and is equipped with a melody powerful enough to distract attention from the accordion in the background, which is playing something that sounds perilously close to the Lambada.

When the tunes aren’t strong, listening to Demon Time feels like standing within earshot of a tween who is frantically scrolling through TikTok without earbuds, which either makes it a brilliantly constructed mirror of our times, or an album-length public nuisance, or perhaps both. Whichever it is, it’s an album that takes the post-lockdown pop trend for the fizzy and brash to an extreme from which there’s no return: when it’s over, the desire to hear something ponderous, introspective and wracked with existential angst is hard to assuage.

This week Alexis listened to

Jockstrap: What’s It All About?
Behind the terrible name and the deliberately awful sleeve, Jockstrap’s debut album is packed with good things, among them this beautifully dejected ballad.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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