Geography by Tom Misch – A whole lotta Soul

tom-misch-geography

What were you doing at 21? While some are graduating from university or starting their own career, seasoned producer, singer/songwriter and DJ Tom Misch was gearing up to release his debut studio album. A seasoned multi-instrumentalist, it took only one year at a conservatoire of music to realise that bedroom producing would be the avenue he would take in order to achieve his dreams. Now, after working with some amazing talent in front and behind the scenes, we have the culmination of efforts of his several self-released mixtapes and EPs – Geography.

Geography is an album that takes on many of Misch’s different influences. Main elements of Funk and Jazz are staple to his brand but also Soul and Disco in smaller parts cover the breadth of this album. Fans of his, especially long term, will appreciate even the most Tom Mischminute of details.

The intro “Before Paris” is a spoken-word like opener, with an unnamed man speaking on the importance of the art form – a relevant sentiment for an artist like Tom – and serves as of a prelude to set the tone for what essentially is the first track, “Lost in Paris” with a slick contribution from talented Grammy nominated US rapper GoldLink.

Bringing a clever fusion of two differing musical instincts and results in something pretty tasteful. It’s bright and upbeat, driven by eccentric electric guitar chords and groove bass finished with a jazzy brass section that is too die for. For a song that was inspired by losing a hard drive full of music, its surprisingly cheerful.

South of the River” ‘brings out the boogie’ with a real disco feel, packed with deep lying basslines and accentuated with violins that serve as the icing on the cake – something that in theory shouldn’t work but in reality it does. While there’s nothing disco about South London, Misch does a great job of saluting his hometown.

For how upbeat the album is from the offset and seems to be holistically, it isn’t without it’s slower jams. Take “Movie” for example. It’s eased into from the previous track with a little love story monologue and it then captivates with those trademark guitar inflections set against the soulful vocals from Misch. It also happens to be a family affair with Tom’s own sister, Polly Misch, adding to the blissful atmosphere it creates. Of all the downtempo tracks, probably one of the most powerful.

Another slow song that is worth notable mention is “You’re On My Mind” which for me evokes a warm fuzzy feeling in my core. Acoustic guitars are the perfect accompaniment for Misch’s take on a sweet serenade this time and gives off the perfect summer evenings kind of vibe.

As talented as Tom is and as eccentric the sounds laden on the album may be, it is the features on Geography that really elevate it and make it worth the listen. One being an unlikely pairing of Tom and legendary US Hip-Hop super group De La Soul on “It Runs Through Me”.

A heavily jazz inspired cut, driven by the electric and bass guitars and topped off with bright piano chords. Simple yet soulful and uplifting, the mood transports you to the late night jazz lounges. Props also to De La Soul who definitely make the song extra special, riding the beat bar for bar, making for a poised rap verse.TomMisch2

A couple tracks later, we are treated to hip-thruster that is “Disco Yes” with Poppy Ajuda. It’s undeniable by now that Tom loves his guitars & basslines. With some funky riffs and increased tempo from the previous tracks added to the mix, Poppy Ajudha’s guest vocals merged with Tom’s, it makes for one of the most impressive on the entire record.

For what it’s worth, “Water Baby” I believe is the best track on the album. Tom Misch enlists his fellow South Londoner Loyle Carner in this melting pot of groovy jazz, soul and hip-hop mixture. It’s signature Tom Misch’s style, blending hip-hop beats and soulful melodies, producing an eargasm that finds its place somewhere between passionate head-nodding and casual, easy listening.

Cos I Love You” serves as the penultimate track and rounds off the Disco bug that Tom evidently caught when making this album as he merges old styles with the new. It’s a mashup, of sorts, with samples and a borrowed chorus tightly wound together to form the most beautifully orchestrated dancing track I’ve heard in a while.

For an album that expertly executes a plethora of different vibes, it does suffer from what I deem as occasional ‘fillers’. While I can acknowledge that “Isn’t She Lovely” – Misch’s take on the Stevie Wonder classic – & “Tick Tock” serve more in the capacity of interlude, they don’t really add much to the flavour and texture of the album.

Having said that,” We’ve Come So Far” is a reasonable way to conclude proceedings as the experimental sounds of Tom’s repertoire progressively build on the track, each layer contributing to the eventual crescendo before fizzling out.
Despite critique, fans can be happy that we now have a full length project from the young singer/beat-maker that they can really stick their teeth into. It covers multiple bases; spanning different vibes and genres means there is something in there for most people. While there isn’t a flowing storyline or explicit theme per say, this can double up also as a portfolio, showing off Tom’s capabilities and emphasising his credibility as a top producer. He can only go from strength to strength from here.

The 4 pillars of a great album

New music is literally being released every day. As you read this, someone somewhere is getting ready to premiere a body of work to the world for appreciation and scrutiny. And everyone’s taste is different. No matter how hard you try, you can never have the PERFECT album because as human nature dictates, people’s tastes vary. However, some of the best albums to touch this earth followed some of the same principles. I’ve taken the liberty to package it into a nice acronym for you guys for easier reading – PACT. As subjective as it can seem, I could have found some sort of answer.

Production
We are moved by the power of sounds. When you listen to a song, EP or album for the first time, your immediate reaction and your opinion on whether it deserves another play or a straight skip is determined on what it sounds like. The instrumental, percussion, the use of real instruments or synth-bass and 808’s; we enjoy being able to identify the elements and appreciate the hard work making a melody sound so nice.
An artist can’t afford to be lazy in this regard. While they may rely on a producer for that banging beat, they must also have a musical ear to decipher what works and what doesn’t. Many artists and producers have a sound that is synonymous with them. Quincy Jones is noted for having a beautiful relationship with Michael Jackson which birthed two of his greatest albums Off The Wall’ and Thriller’. I liken it to the relationship J Hus has with JAE5. JAE5 has helped make J Hus’ ‘UK-afro-bashment’ sound so unique and stood as executive producer in his critically acclaimed and Mercury Prize shortlisted Common Sense.
rick-ross-kanye-studioSome artists take to production themselves because, I mean, who knows your musical style, taste and preference better than yourself. The likes of Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder have really shaped their respected genres by taking the music into their own hands.

 

Ability
We judge the greatness of an artist based primarily on their ability. For a rapper, it’s their abstract metaphors or double-time flow, rhyming style, storytelling prowess. For a singer, it’s their tone, their vocal control, riffs, runs & harmonies. We can sometimes be so swayed by a singer or rappers acrobatics on a song but it is that well executed dynamism that ultimately have people wanting to listen to the song or the album again and again. No better example than ‘Section.80’  by Kendrick Lamar and in particular “Rigamortis” . Take time to really listen to the song, you may be wowed by his effective use of double-time flow but what is more fascinating is his subtle and elaborate rhyming style. 15-phenomenal-female-british-soul-singers-u1
A sign of a great rap album is when you can listen to it much later and discover a new metaphor astonishingly like its the first time you heard the song. As crazy as that sounds, I still have that feeling when I listen to Wale’s Attention Deficit’ or Wretch 32’s Black and White’.
In like respect for a singer, it’s how your songs are vocally arranged, how you work through your range and no one did it better in prime like Sade. With songs like “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love is King”, her famous sultry vocals crowned her introductory album Diamond Life’ a top album of the 80’s era.

Content
After you first listen to an album and decide that you like it so you listen again, you’ll find yourself picking up on the messages of certain songs and the album as a whole. Whether the artist speaks on real-life experiences, a storyteller for others or speaking figuratively, listeners have an expectation for a quality written album (unless your songs lack proper lyrics, no shade).
lecrae-tickets_11-04-17_17_598899b350492Lecrae’s in-depth look into the African-American social-historical condition and being self reflective of his own personal journey while inspiring hope, faith and political change made ‘Church Clothes 3’ one of my favourite projects of 2016. Joey Bada$$ contribution to the message with ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ was less historical, more passionate but powerful all the same. Especially the video for “Land of the Free“!
And while heartfelt messages arguably don’t achieve proper commercial success, her mature take on love and nostalgia fittingly made Adele’s ’25’ one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century.

Theme
Theme slightly differs to content for the reason that it can be executed in a number of different ways. It’s not strictly confined to what the artist speaks; it should realistically be always down to the artist to have the freedom to express and execute his creativity. GoldLink’s At What Cost’ was greatly inspired by his D.C. roots and that gave for an album that had a go-go, funky groove from top to bottom, with songs like “Summatime” “Hands on your Knees” and “Meditation” being prime examples.
Great albums have retrospective themes that can go beyond just the audible which the listener can follow and become immersed in. I took a real liking to Jon Bellion’s ‘The Human Condition’; what he presented was more than an album. He intertwines his own stories and relatable life experiences with a hint of imagination, and with the added artwork accompanying every song on the album, creates a visual-audible experience.

If I say anything else, let me say AGAIN this is not a comprehensive neither is it industry standard but my own personal opinion based on preference and listening experience but I feel like even you, the reader, after reading this may start to see these things yourself.