While most of South London’s music has been focused on the grimey, murky underbelly of post-punk from the likes of Shame, Fat White Family and Phobophobes, there’s been another blossoming, much fresher sounding trend south of the River Thames. The jazz-inflected, soft harmonies from the likes of Loyle Carner, Cosmo Pyke and King Krule have been making waves with their sophisticated sounds, beautiful lyricism and clever songwriting. Arguably one of the most impressive musicians from this scene is Loyle Carner’s frequent collaborator Tom Misch, whose meditative, elegiac approach to songwriting has very quickly won him fans all over the world and makes his debut record, Geography, feel like a walk in the park on a thriving spring afternoon. It’s a beautiful record, brimming with lush soundscapes and smooth musical compositions garnering ideas from the worlds of jazz, hip-hop, funk and disco.
It’s these multicultural sounds that make Geography sound so fresh. Misch has spoken about wanting to branch out into the world of disco, house and techno on this record when he said, “I want people to dance at my live shows, I want to bring more energy,” but, naturally, as he’s professionally trained as a jazz guitarist he knows all about the suave sounding improvisationally-lead genre, mixed with the mainstream that creates, “A warm feeling, when you hear a certain chord progression”. Ultimately, Misch is an artist that is so well versed in the world of music, that his finished product incorporates a much more well rounded sound that has as much in common with D’Angelo as it does Gwen McCrae.
Each track acts as an exploration and experimentation into a different genre but, crucially, carries that distinctive Misch sound to administer coherency. Take ‘Movie’, by far the finest track on the record, for example, which sees Misch explore the jazz genre in a deeper way than he has before. It’s a track that wouldn’t be out of place on D’Angelo’s Voodoo, all the while evoking the smokey darkness of an underground jazz club. With lyrics about modern heartache (“Too much time on my phone / Baby do you still sleep alone”, in particular, having all the makings of a live weepy), this slow crooner is a gorgeous track with Misch’s trademark guitar enunciations and a sumptuous bass riff making this the essence of easy-listening. The hip-hop meets jazz correlation continues with the De La Soul featuring ‘It Runs Through Me’, which explores Misch’s special connection to music, as well as his love for old-school hip-hop.
Whereas, ‘South of the River’, an ode to Misch’s native South London, the funk-laden, bass-heavy track, and the Loyle Carner featuring ‘Water Baby’, both seem to be almost classic Tom Misch songs. With mellow piano melodies gliding throughout the songs, with buoyant fusillades of impassioned brass, handclaps and jerking beats, it creates a sound that no one today is doing. It feels fresh and relevant, but with a touch of sophisticated class you’d expect from the crooners of the 50s and 60s. ‘Water Baby’, especially, proves that both Carner and Misch are one-of-a-kinds in this industry. With Carner’s lyrical truthfulness in the form of: “’Cos money’s tight, maybe tighter than it was before/ I’m helping out on a mortgage I really can’t afford”, over Misch’s chilled-out beats, it’s a track that promotes even further that Misch and Carner are the finest musicians of their generation.
Meanwhile, ‘Disco Yes’, of course, sees Misch tackling the disco genre. As expected, it’s a legitimate, out-and-out disco track that has a delicious beat that’s worthy of the great Nile Rodgers. With Poppy Ajudha’s luscious vocals, too, this has all the makings of smashing Misch’s goal of being, “In a club and you can feel the bass…I want people to have that experience.” ‘Disco Yes’ has such an addictive bassline, it could make even the most dance shy person get up and bust a move.
This is such an exceptional album that the only real misstep comes from his instrumental cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. In an album of such greatness, with remarkable musical exploration, it seems a little cheap, and way below Misch’s talent level. However, at just 22 years old, Misch is creating music far beyond his age. A mixture of reflective easy-listening, with get up and party funk noises and slow-jam hip-hop, it’s an incredible mixture of sounds that works due to Misch’s excellent production skills, and his sheer musicality. Geography is everything you could want from a Tom Misch debut record; whether you’ve been with him from the start, or you’re a newcomer to his work, Geography is an expedition into music’s past, present, and future.