Mura Masa Mura Masa

[Universal; 2017]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles: discover weekly
Others: Cashmere Cat, Lido, Flume

It’s no secret why SoundCloud is going under. Functioning as dumping ground, sounding board, and most crucially of all lawless platform, its entire appeal was its undoing. Like many good things, SoundCloud’s culture doesn’t play well with monetization. So it is with Mura Masa. The producer album is a curious thing: for the Timbalands or Alchemists of the world, it’s an outlet for the many worthy byproducts of the near-constant studio sessions that will yield the tracks on which they actually make their name — that is, the solo album is not something that the producer aspires to so much as inadvertently creates.

Quite the opposite for the SoundCloud producer. While the site is itself a proving ground, what is being proven and by whom remains rather nebulous; a label deal (i.e., the path toward release of an album proper) brings with it a formalized set of strategies and structural cues (from sequencing to lead single selection) that are plainly antithetical to the way in which so many found an audience on SoundCloud. It’s a world in which the listener’s default stance is assumed to be suspicion, rather than curiosity. Consequently, the artist’s goal of pure enticement is marred by an element of trickery.

Unfortunately, this rarely bodes well for an artist’s individuality. Mura Masa was already disadvantaged by the tendency of these sorts of projects to rely on a slate of recognizable features; his productions are scaled back to accommodate the vocalist, while any hope of cohesion goes out the window in the face of appearances from no less than 10 different artists, each given an entire track. That’s not inherently irredeemable, but it’s a lot harder when the features are as anonymous — both in name and in style — as the majority of guests on Mura Masa. With two exceptions (Desiigner and, uh, Damon Albarn), they completely fail to elevate the tracks in any way, an unfortunate consequence of needing to feature Charli XCX on your album because she’s good and popular as hell rather than because you and Charli XCX have made any particularly interesting music together.

The issue is that Charli and the rest of the album’s features are what baseball fans would call “replacement level” — any number of musicians could be inserted in their place with little to no change in the end product. Where this is untrue, it’s usually for the worse. The utterly impotent funk of Jamie Lidell’s performance on “NOTHING ELSE!” put me in a bad mood for the whole second half of the album, and I’ve specifically avoided ever listening to Arctic Monkeys because I imagine them to sound like Tom Tripp on “helpline.”

The saddest thing about it is that the album’s shortcomings are hardly the fault of Mura Masa himself. The dude’s entire thing was making unique beats fully capable of standing on their own, no part of which is compatible whatsoever with the expectations that Universal has of an artist whose deal can be traced back to the fact that “he’s big with the teens.” Nowhere is this clearer than on “Love$ick,” renamed from “Lovesick Fuck” (very much a hit in its own right) and burdened with an A$AP Rocky feature that may well have been produced in a factory somewhere, the purest distillation possible of how and why flashes of SoundCloud brilliance go to shit when being forced into Spotify-sized holes. For what you might have hoped the album to be, listen to the excellent Waves / Sole M8s single (released in June but inexplicably absent from the album) or Mura Masa’s recent BBC Essential Mix. For more like Mura Masa, simply keep an eye on the undercards of the summer festival circuit. Doesn’t matter which — any one will do.

Most Read