The publishing world can sometimes feel like a ceaseless siege, particularly for a young music site like ours that’s simply trying to develop a consistent cadence of quality content and establish a footprint in a very crowded space. As Albumism’s founder and editor-in-chief—and a guy who also works a demanding full-time gig and is a proud father of two little ones, demanding in their own right—I’ve admittedly fallen victim at times to the robotic “on to the next” mentality as I edit and churn out each article, review or retrospective. Deadline-obsessed and always pressed for time, staying up ‘til the wee hours of every morning to work on the site, it’s often challenging for me to slow the pace down, take a step back, spend quality time with a record, and let the editorial calendar be damned.
Recently, however, I made an exception to this rule, opting to forego a rush-job review of an album by an artist that has piqued my interest for a few years now, ever since I first heard his songs spun by the main man Gilles Peterson during his BBC Radio 6 broadcast. Instead, I decided to spend my sweet ass time with Geography, Tom Misch’s debut album that formally surfaced just over a month ago. Since its release, I would surmise that I’ve played Geography from beginning to end roughly a dozen or so times, my connection to and affection for this dazzling record deepening with each subsequent listen.
While the genre-defying Geography is technically the debut album proper by the London-bred producer and multi-instrumentalist, the qualifier is a bit of a misnomer as well. Misch’s output has been abundant to say the least over the past four years, with a few albums’ worth of songs to his credit courtesy of an assortment of EPs and the pair of Beat Tape mix compilations. Collectively, his recorded repertoire thus far reflects his hyperbole-free lyrical sincerity, versatile musicianship, keen penchant for multi-layered melodies, and convergence of electronic, hip-hop, jazz and soul influences, all of which coalesce into a distinctive, cosmopolitan sonic tapestry all his own.
Misch’s guitar handiwork features prominently across the expanse of the album, beginning with the opening “Before Paris” which segues smoothly into the buoyant groove of “Lost in Paris,” bolstered by the rhymeplay of the GRAMMY-nominated emcee GoldLink. A cursory interpretation suggests a lament about a love left behind in La Ville Lumière, but Misch has recently clarified the song’s surprising subtext. “The song is actually about a hard drive that I lost in Paris,” he confided to BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, who premiered the track last month. “You’d presume it was about a boy or girl but no, it’s actually about a memory stick I’d lost that had a lot of new music on it. I got it back, I’d left it in my hotel room, and wrote a song about it.”
While “Lost in Paris” makes a compelling case for the album’s supreme standout, for my money, this distinction is bestowed upon “Water Baby.” An effervescent, multi-textured soundscape gleefully glides along as Misch—joined here by frequent collaborator Loyle Carner—delivers his inspired message of maintaining your peace of mind through tough times. Needless to say, this terrific track demands repeat plays and is destined to bring smiles and head nods to even the most stoic of listeners.
A handful of additional highlights abound, including “It Runs Through Me,” and not just because Misch scored the coup of all coups in securing Posdnuos of De La Soul for the guest spot. While the legendary lyricist enhances the track as one would expect, it’s Misch’s earnest ode to music, the preeminent muse that runs through him, that is most affecting, as he reflects, “She told me add a bassline / And everything will be alright / She told me that the beat is mine / It will rock us through the night / And where I’ll go / Can’t explain I’ll never know / But it’s beautiful.”
Featuring a heartrending spoken word intro from his thespian sister Polly, a lovelorn Misch turns down the tempo for “Movie,” another sterling, soulful showcase for his dual guitar and piano work. A wistful reverie of a faded love, Misch reflects, “Remember me / Fresh out a black and white movie, movie / On every screen / What would you realize / What you meant to me, was a mystery.”
Elsewhere, memorable moments emerge in the subtle funk of the violin and bass imbued “South of the River” featuring a spaced-out, symphonic jam session in the song’s latter half, the soaring shapeshifter “Tick Tock,” an all-too brief, guitar-driven instrumental rendition of the Stevie Wonder staple “Isn’t She Lovely,” and the back-to-back pair of tender ballads “You’re On My Mind” and “Cos I Love You.” The album concludes with “We’ve Come So Far,” with Misch’s repeated proclamation of the title a meditative mantra for his burgeoning, blossoming-before-our-ears career.
An unassuming and uncompromisingly gratifying aural experience, Geography is my personal favorite album of 2018 so far, until otherwise notified. It’s also proof positive that taking the time to fully indulge and replenish your soul with the finer things (and songs) in life is well worth the investment.
Notable Tracks: “It Runs Through Me” | “Lost in Paris” | "Movie" | “Water Baby”