When I first encountered the person that has become Mura Masa (aka Alex Crossan) he was the shy and retiring lead guitarist for deathcore band So Cold The River at one of the Rock of Ages events at Guernsey’s Carlton Hotel.
Since then things have changed slightly from a few demos made in his bedroom which first came to my attention in early 2013 to a Soundcloud mixtape that gained international indie distribution on vinyl under the name Soundtrack To A Death to signing to Polydor Records, setting up his own imprint (Anchor Point Records), selling out tours of the US, Europe and Japan and now the release of his self-titled debut album.
The album opens with a funky scene setter, Messy Love that throws together many of the aspects to be developed as the record goes on.
Along with rhythmically satisfying dance beats that combine classic funk and disco with more current electronic sounds, Mura Masa’s lyrics provide an interesting take on fairly well trodden formula for young musicians dealing with angsty, post-teen life in a refreshingly direct way.
From there the first half of the album heads into more hip hop inflected territory and the first batch of collaborators make their appearance. Regular performance partner and label mate Bonzai is first of these on the rantingly intense Nuggets followed by A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX and Desiigner.
While all their tracks have their own spin on the style Mura Masa’s writing and production style threads them all together. While Love$ick (a reworking of earlier track Lovesick Fuck) and 1 Night are both single style numbers, All Around The World provides the album’s most intense moments before another track, almost an interlude, without collaborators, provides something of a transitionary moment that feels very much like an intentional ‘end of side one’.
The second half of the album then heads into more ambient territory with the alt.pop feel coming further to the fore (though 1 Night lands in that area too) and once again gets going with a track featuring Bonzai that is one of the record’s highlights.
With Nao, Christine & The Queens, Jamie Lidell and more it’s fair to say the record is an impressive who’s who of current alt.pop but it is Mura Masa’s music and production that makes the album a whole. At first I thought it might sound a bit like another mixtape but it does coalesce into a collection of complete songs with an obvious through line to become a full product in itself.
Nothing Else, featuring the aforementioned Lidell, brings an extra bit of soul to the record before it all comes to a conclusion on the magnificently genre defying Blu.
This has an extra surreal quality given the presence of Damon Albarn (frontman of Blur and founder of Gorillaz) who, for music fans of my vintage, has been one of the top names in pop for the best part of three decades.
All of this comes together to make for a very impressive debut that sets out Mura Masa’s place as a defier of convention and creator of a vein of alt.pop that borrows from many places to create something his own that can connect on several levels to wider audience than one might at first think (it even got me moving as I listened).