Review: Mura Masa 'Mura Masa'

Every now and again (and with increasing frequency) learning the age of an artist I admire results in a sinking feeling. Stomach churning, I calculate the years that separate me from them in age, and gulpingly swallow a suspicion that I am in fact lazy and inadequate. Never more has that been the case than when I learned Mura Masa’s age. He’s twenty-one now, which is bad enough, but when ‘Lotus Eater’ first broke into the mainstream from Soundcloud he was just seventeen, which is disgusting. Even more galling is just how good his self-titled debut album is, though it certainly was a number of years in the making. 

Even back at the beginning of his career, Mura Masa (aka Alex Crossan) fast established a distinctive sound. All calypso-inspired steel drums, air-horns, and crisp electronic production, he drew inspiration from Hudson Mohawke, SBTRKT, and James Blake. Those early releases sat on the fringes of tropical house, but his instrumentation and production choices hinted at a capacity for something more sophisticated. Mura Masa makes the hint a reality, and the majority of the album (barring the needless inclusion of old releases ‘What If I Go?’ and ‘Firefly’) presents a significant departure from the sound we’d come to associate with the young artist. 

It’s not, however, a departure in a singular direction. Style and genre are pretty fluid when it comes to this record, and that’s surely in large part down to the type and calibre of artists he’s chosen to come into the studio with him. The album is less sprinkled, more doused with feature-artist clout, and his selection of these artists is on point in terms both of achieving diversity of sound, and (perhaps more cynically) of reaching the widest possible audience. Present here are the big hitters (A$AP Rocky and Desiigner), the critically credible (Damon Albarn and Christine and the Queens, Charli XCX, Jamie Lidell), and the relative newbies (Bonzai, NAO, AK Paul, Tom Tripp). The only problem is, when Crossan invites these artists into the booth, the songs tend to become theirs. 

This kind of song-hijacking is more pervasive, and more successful, on some songs than others. The Bonzai feature ‘Nuggets’ is pretty classic Bonzai, but believable within the context of a Mura Masa album. Christine and the Queens’ ‘Second To None’ is a perfect amalgamation of the two musical minds, combining Christine’s melodic voice with Crossan’s steel drums and pitched vocal production tics. Less successful is the Lidell feature ‘NOTHING ELSE!’ which should have been left for a Lidell album, considering how little of Mura Masa is actually in there. 

That said, all the genre-hopping makes for a genuinely exciting album. Crossan has done what Disclosure tried to do on 2015’s semi-fop Caracal, with far more success. Both albums lean heavily on features but, unlike in the case of Caracal, Mura Masa has the tunes to back them up. There are a few that aren't going to stick around - ‘NOTHING ELSE!’ and ‘Around The World’ in particular fall into the filler category with a thump - but others, like, ‘helpline’ and ‘Blu’ are excellent, and indicate a brand new phase in this talented artist’s early career. Here’s hoping that, unlike Disclosure, Mura Masa’s evolution can last long into the future. 

Find Anna on Twitter at @annaerichmond

Album artwork property of Interscope Records and Anchor Point Records.