Tom Misch is 22 with an old soul. The London producer-singer-songwriter makes sunny spring morning music; his intricate guitar chords and chilled keys paired best with morning coffee. His earlier offerings, namely 2015’s Beat Tape 2 and 2017’s 5 Day Mischon, were firmly rooted in the intersections of soul, funk, hip-hop, and his training in classical music.
Since his Beat Tape days, Misch has gone on to learn the power of the live show, reframing the way he produces music with performance and audience squarely in mind. His revelations served him well as his debut album, Geography, is as infectious as it is evocative. Downbeat jazz and funk flow out of this record like hot water from the kettle to the mug. The album’s title speaks to Misch’s mission statement: charting his soundscape, his growth as a beatmaker, singer, songwriter, and storyteller.
While his back catalog proves him to be a phenomenal instrumentalist, Geography privileges Misch’s singing as much as his guitar skill. The timbre of Misch’s voice is rich and warm. His singing soothes and alludes to an inherent wisdom. He knows you and, somehow, he hears you. Misch’s depth entitles him to a wonderful range, sounding right at home on the deeply romantic “You’re On My Mind” and just as well on the playful “Cos I Love.”
Singing aside, Misch’s expansive potential as a producer is exciting as ever. Cutting violins open “South of the River,” alluding to Misch’s classically-trained roots. The track packs a disco-funk edge that’s taken to a whole new level with a taut and pastel piano solo. The flurried keys whisk you into another world, padded with gummy synths and a familiar whistle.
In fact, much of Misch’s music carries with it an unexpected camaraderie. Geography plays like mood music for splitting an order with a long lost friend, except that friend is Tom Misch himself, his music unlocking pivotal memories both past and future. In that breath, he manages to makes the electronic sound witty and flirtatious on “Tick Tock.” Yes, “Disco Yes,” is disco brought up to speed for 2018, with an added tinge of orchestral strings to usher in the evocative and folksy follow-up, “Man Like You.”
Though “Disco Yes” is a bright problem child—it could have used a measure or two less on the outro—and one of few times where Misch is more excited to hear his own arrangement than he is mindful of the momentum of his album, he's able to more than make up for it with “Man Like You,” which evolves into a sinuous classical medley, with pensive guitar riffs winding up the ivory tower of violin notes.
Misch’s Dilla and early boom bap influences are also on full display when the crackling vocals of his sister, Polly Misch, open “Movie.” Sounding like a 1940s film sample, Polly dramatically intones the tale of a fleeting love. The downtempo, cinematic, and noir-esque feel of the music gives us the impression that Misch is somehow omniscient, able to access and score the most intimate memories and timelines. We bask in another flutter of keys on the final arc of the track, which is hopefully an allusion to the Tom Misch piano album still to come.
The album approaches the end on the upswing with “Cos I Love,” but “We’ve Come So Far” plays as oddly finalistic following a track you’d queue up to celebrate a flawless first date. That’s not to say “We’ve Come So Far” is a poor offering with which to conclude an album, it’s ceremonious and breathtaking and a proud sigh of relief, but it betrays the work done on the prior two tracks. While the close of the album is confusing, it is not wholly unsatisfying, just a symptom of the flaw of Geography’s pacing and structure.
Even so, Geography is an adaptive project. Is there a real ethos to this record outside of the theme of the title? Not particularly, but Geography doesn’t meander, it’s merely caught up in the sights. The record suffers from its own merriment, but it’s far from bland. The album is tied together by a striking sonic palette, mastery of mood, and a meticulous arrangement. Geography sounds effortless, and that ease tempers our search for more, more, more.
Tom Misch has the map to his voice in his hands, and we are eagerly waiting for him to crack it open. As he taps deeper into himself as a soloist and singer, he will likely plumb his psyche in due time, but for now, it’s about unwinding, feeling good, and reveling in the moment.
Three Standout Tracks
“Lost In Paris” ft. GoldLink
Shoulder-shimmy music with a Parisian swagger. The saxophone solo alone should sell you on this cut, but there is also a tight GoldLink feature if you require further convincing.
“Water Baby” ft. Loyle Carter
“Water Baby” should play over the opening credits of every feel-good sitcom. UK rapper Loyle Carter’s rasp and seamless storytelling give the song an earthy and familiar feel, syncing it with the rest of Misch’s music.
“You’re On My Mind”
Rich and romantic like you’d demand from quality jazz, the slink of the cut summons images of brown leather couches on Sunday mornings, sharing breakfast. “You’re On My Mind” effortlessly balances yearning and desire without teetering into the realm of desperation.