On his eponymous debut album, Alex Crossan, or Mura Masa, has put together a guest list that reads more like a who’s who of contemporary music. Among the big names you’ll find Desiigner, Charli XCX, Nao and Blur’s Damon Albarn (who’s had a busy year, from releasing a Gorillaz album to collaborating with Vince Staples). The danger with such a star-studded album is that too many cooks in the kitchen tends to overwhelm a record, detracting from any consistent meaning or sound (see DJ Khaled for reference). Luckily for Mura Masa, he’s pulled it together with impressive finesse and balance.
The album has been a long time coming; its first single, Firefly ft. Nao, came out back in 2015. In fact, nine of the album’s 13 tracks had already been released including the all-conquering Love$ick ft. A$AP Rocky. So while the album only offers a little by way of new music, it places them in a cohesive, enjoyable order.
From the get-go, opener Messy Love is a statement of ambition. Sirens give way to an infectious piano riff that hooks you in and refuses to let go. A distorted male voice sings “Use me for your messy love” over and over, and the song continually switches paths, often without warning. Parts of the album feel like a snapshot of electronic music today 2017: new, exciting, and above all, fresh.
All Around the World features the clearest-sounding Desiigner verse to date (not that there’s much competition). Though the album’s two rappers – he and A$AP Rocky – have just one song between them, each artist is used in completely different ways. On Love$ick, the beat is an re-interpretation of early single Lovesick Fuck; it feels like summer, though embellished with classic hip-hop drum sounds. Meanwhile, All Around The World is trap-influenced and perfectly suited Desiigner’s strengths. Rather than try to fit a square peg in a round hole, Mura Masa masterfully utilises his guests to their fullest potential.
Give Me The Ground is by far the strangest choice on this album. Swapping electronic sounds for a guitar, and at just 1:07, this track and Messy Love, are the only two tracks with zero featured guests. The pair both use autotune, and though they don’t make too much sense in the album’s overall construction, they could be seen as an introduction and interlude. Regardless, they’re worthy inclusions in their own right.
Nuggets ft. Bonzai is an album standout, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album – the kind you can easily imagine going down a treat at summer festivals (or, y’know, Splendour). The bouncy waves continue with Firefly, the tinny Nao-featuring track which, though it came out two years ago, is still as funky and electrifying as the fist time you heard it.
One particular standout is Nothing Else ft. Jamie Liddell. Funk-infused to its core, it straddles genres with ease, as ambiguous as it is utterly delightful. Helpline ft. Tom Tripp is similar, drifting away from dance towards more experimental structures and sounds. Whereas the first half of the album was guaranteed to get you moving, the second half feels somewhat more niche, but no less successful.
Blu features Damon Albarn, and feels as woozy as any of the songs that have come before. His voice is run through autotune, and the use of organ suits the downtempo of the song, which focuses on mental illness. This, in many ways, illustrates Mura Masa’s dexterity, having spent much of the album increasing the mood, he now brings it down.
Dance music in 2017 is alive and well, and it’s becoming more diverse and wide-reaching every day. Mura Masa has managed to meet the lofty expectations set for him off the back of his already considerable success, and then some. His debut album is, ultimately, a resounding success.
Words by Ben Madden