Tom Misch’s ‘Geography’: a danceable new direction

Album artwork for 'Geography'

It is always more enjoyable writing a harsh review. Grinding up an album between your teeth before spitting it out onto a viewing platform makes for a more exciting read. Upon listening to ‘Geography’, the latest album from South London based, jazz guitarist Tom Misch, I realised, to my simultaneous despair and delight, that I had almost nothing to criticise. 

As the sounds of a string orchestra tuning up drift out of my headphones at the start of the first track ‘Before Paris’, I wonder if this is the right record. The words of American record producer and rapper, J Dilla, fade in: “You have to love this thing man, you have to love it and breathe it. It’s your morning coffee, it’s your food, that’s why you become an artist, art is a miracle of society.” It sounds less cheesy on the track I promise. It’s only after one minute, once the bass drum and groovy guitar lines have kicked in, that you can be certain: this is definitely Misch. 

Misch's passion for music oozes from every ounce of this album; he clearly loves what he does. Geography is an exploration of a musical landscape, named after a passion of his which was never pursued; it dances between genres including Disco, Soul, Hip-Hop and Jazz, a true testament to his diverse sound and genre fluidity. "I try so many genres that it's hard sometimes to pinpoint” Misch recently said in an interview, “I guess my sound is uplifting, soulful, funky - and happy more than it is sad."

Three tracks in and the familiar violin intro of ‘South of the River’, which was released as a single last July, cuts through the mellow groove. "I much prefer the general vibe of South London," says Misch, “Singing that line - You should come south of the river - it just felt really good." With its string arrangements mirroring disco synth stabs and a head-nodding bassline, it points clearly to Misch's danceable new direction.

Indeed, Misch’s real evolution away from his early tapes, which he recorded in his bedroom, has come from his drive for exciting live performances. “With Beat Tape 2, I just kind of made it, but stupidly didn’t think about being able to play it live,” he says, “Now I’m always thinking: Can my bass player do this live? Can the drummer play this?”.  But Misch hasn’t ventured too far from his roots: he still produces from the same bedroom studio and got his sisters Polly and Laura to feature - on vocals and saxophone respectively. His mother also produced the artwork.

The album sees Misch collaborate with a plethora of different artists, from hip-hop trio De La Soul, to Washington-based rapper GoldLink, as well as fellow South Londoner Loyle Carner, a friend of Misch’s, who has made regular appearances in his live shows. 

For the first time in his music, Misch draws from his love for disco, house, and techno, discovered through producers like Kaytranada and Motor City Drum Ensemble. ‘Disco Yes’ and ‘Cos I Love You’ see him experiment with more unusual production methods. The heavier, thumping bass throughout the record is inspired by clubs, like Fabric or Corsica Studios, and the ecstatic feel of 1970s and ‘80s disco. "I want people to dance at my live shows, I want to bring more energy," he says. "When you're in a club and you can feel the bass...I want people to have that experience." 

Nowhere is this more present than in the closing track of the album ‘We’ve Come So Far’, a slow-building, euphoric farewell unlike anything Misch has released before. As layers of distorted synth and guitar thicken beneath the repeated words ‘We’ve Come So Far’, the listener feels a sense of companionship with Misch. The lyrics bring a sense of completion and closure to the album that is rare to come by in this decade.

Release date: 6th April 2018

Tracklisting: Before Paris, Lost In Paris (feat. GoldLink), South Of The River, Movie, Tick Tock, It Runs Through Me (feat. De La Soul), Isn't She Lovely, Disco Yes (feat. Poppy Ajudha), Man Like You, Water Baby (feat. Loyle Carner), You're On My Mind, Cos I Love You, We've Come So Far

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