Tom Misch: Geography
By Alex Mackenzie
Geography is a mark of further expansion into the growing genre of neo soul. Tom Misch has championed this new sound before in projects such as The Beat Tapes 1 & 2 and Out to Sea, but there is clearly an intentional difference here. We can hark back to Tom’s beginnings for nostalgic instrumentals induced by J Dill, D’Angelo and his love of ‘the groove’. In this project, his old style merges into songs that transform Misch into an artist that doesn’t shy away from the limelight.
The gauntlet is gently placed on the ground with track one, Before Paris’s proclamation of ‘You can’t start trying to be an artist or a musician or something like that, because you want to make money, because you want to do a job, tha’ that’s the wrong way, you have to do this because you love it’ narrating of his dedication. With a soft guitar rift for company, Tom declares his love for his own work, birthing his artistic vision as if for the first time.
In previous projects, Tom has always taken a back seat; notably the producer’s chair with a table of lo fi sound pallets and a nice cup of tea. But Geography is different because Tom brings his vocals to the forefront. His catalogue of work attributes many features to artists such as Zak Abel, Jordan Rakei and even his sister Laura. As a producer, Tom is usually focused on bringing artists to light and creating a space for them to showcase their ability. Before now we’ve only heard fragments of Misch’s sultry vocals, but here they step into a direct and confident realm. This time he makes you sit up and take notice. From Disco Yes (feat. Poppy Ajuda) right through to Cos I Love You, there’s a more purposeful tone, partly due to the upbeat tempo adopted in the second half of the album.
It seems that Tom still needs to remind everyone how he has reached this point in his musical career. This shows to great effect in the first half of Geography, and particularly in track four, Movie. His jazz influences fuse with hip-hop rhythms as a guitar string trickles down your neck. It’s no wonder he has the reputation as one of the best underground producers of the moment: he’s created a collection of humble masterpieces.In a recent interview Tom mentioned that now, as a young 22-year-old, he has decided to embrace a more commercial approach to his music. His music has no boundaries, and he wanted to bring additional audiences to the table. South Of The River, for example, shows us that - if he so chooses - Tom could easily drop into mainstream. In this all-encompassing ode to South London, the violin builds to a powerful crescendo accompanied by a very funky bass line. It’s this kind of sound that demonstrates how far he has come since his first Majestic Casual appearance on Majestic Casual four years ago.
The mark of a newfound commercial appeal lies in his collaborations; his friendship with Loyle Carner (now a Brit Nominee) is cemented in Water Baby. Part of me is hoping for a laid-back equivalent of Watch The Throne in the coming years. De La Soul also appear on Geography: It Runs Through Me makes for another exciting transition from the usual Misch structure, touching on the role of human instinct in creativity and with a salsa like chord progression to boot.
The collaborations are original but the sound is his most commercial yet, and as Misch’s timeline continues it appears that he’s made the right move. There are more years to come and more sounds to discover. While many are familiar with his earlier work, this is his first official debut album. He’s got a long way to go and he’s far from cracking the mainstream (whether he will ever get there is another question). But for now we listen to him grow at a gradual pace; a pace that reminds us of where he’s been, and hints at where he might be heading.