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Mura Masa Wrestles Complex Emotions on His Major-Label Debut


Mura Masa, 21, is releasing his official major-label debut album.

Nolan Feldpausch

There’s a world of plink and ping in the songs of Mura Masa, the producer whose major-label debut album, “Mura Masa,” arrives this week; he already has a catalog dating back to “Soundtrack to a Death,” his 2014 collection. He’s a denizen of an interconnected planet, with global sources and an ambition to be heard, as one song title puts it, “All Around the World.”

Mura Masa is a 21-year-old Englishman, Alex Crossan, whose stage name comes from the 16th-century Japanese swordsmith Muramasa, and the music he makes with diverse collaborators regularly hints at non-Western modes and sounds. Trinidadian steel drums and Indonesian gamelan gongs (or convincing samples of them) are central elements in songs on the album that have already reached the dance-music charts, “Love$ick” (featuring ASAP Rocky) and “1 Night” (featuring Charli XCX). Mura Masa is also fond of harps, xylophones and other metallic-sounding tones that may not have real-world equivalents but still clink precisely, then disappear, harking back to the patterns of Minimalist composers like Steve Reich.

Mura Masa & Charli XCX – “1 Night” Video by MuraMasaVEVO

Commercial impact doesn’t seem to be Mura Masa’s only goal. He’s also trying to conjure tricky emotions and build eccentric structures in and around his pop verses and choruses. His songs have needy, uncertain narrators, and his productions are reticent, almost shy; they avoid overblown bass and drum sounds and back away from obvious buildups, often placing silences where a big, obvious beat could go.

“Mura Masa” features collaborators from hip-hop (Desiigner), rock (Damon Albarn from Gorillaz and Blur), mainstream pop (Jamie Lidell) and pop’s artier extensions (Christine and the Queens). But he draws them all into his own orbit, where neat, understated, thoroughly controlled tracks and modal melodies carry forlorn thoughts of how elusive and uncontrollable love can be. His own processed voice is on the album’s opening track, “Messy Love,” which offers a riff of bell tones and a desperate vow: “Take me, break me/Use me for your messy love.”

Mura Masa’s most widely heard song so far, “Love$ick,” is actually a newer iteration of a song from his 2015 EP, “Someday Somewhere.” It’s built on a Caribbean-tinged beat and a four-bar loop of a piano that soon switches its sound to steel drums. In the old version, the track’s only lyrics were pleas: “I need you,” “I want you” and “Come over here”; A$AP Rocky’s rap adds details that mix boasting and longing.

Mura Masa – “Love$ick” feat. A$AP Rocky Video by MuraMasaVEVO

In the catchy, multilayered “1 Night,” meditative gongs overlap a stop-start vocal line from Charli XCX as she depicts a complicated situation. She thought she was determined to shun commitment — “I’m not the type of girl who wants serious affection” — but after a memorable one-night stand, she has discovered that she wants more. Yet that leaves her vulnerable, unsure of how her partner feels: “Do you wanna go back?” she wonders.


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In both music and lyrics, “Mura Masa” is an album full of approach and evasion, of connections that are tantalizingly tentative. “What if I Go,” with vocals from Bonzai, starts with what promises to be a hip-hop beat, but by midway through the first verse, it has fallen away, leaving her to sing over a simple ticking beat and pointillistic chords; she insists, “Wherever you go, I’m going with you, babe,” but it’s unclear whether she’ll get the chance. “Second 2 None,” sung by Christine and the Queens (a.k.a. Héloïse Letissier), is even sparser, a heartbreak song that may be an elegy, with countermelodies in flutes and steel drums appearing and vanishing around Ms. Letissier’s voice.

Mura Masa has a world of instruments and sounds to draw on, and a confident craftsman’s sense of what to include and what to leave out. His songs also understand that no system can contain or predict the vagaries of the human heart.

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