Ever since Beat Tape 2 came out in 2015, Tom Misch has been one of my favorite artists and I’ve followed him closely for three years now. He’s a staple of my post-night out playlists and at 4am he’s usually received with an approving nod from some almost-comatose friend wedged halfway down the back of my sofa. Misch’s strength has always been in creating an atmosphere and thus he is perfect as background music, necessary for long car journeys, late night essay stresses, and impressing a first date with your laid-back vibes and ability to knock out a solid tuna pasta bake. All of this is me saying that I’m very familiar with his sound, especially his instantly-recognisable, warm-and-cozy signature guitar, heavily inspired by John Mayer (circa Continuum). But I think it’s this very familiarity which makes Geography all the more disappointing for me.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot on this album I like. The opening track ‘Before Paris’ starts off with a lovely sample from J Dilla, another key inspiration for Misch (who even named his puppy after him). Dilla talks about the passion an artist should have for their music: “You have to do this because you love it. And it doesn’t matter if you broke, you still gon’ do it.” Although to some this could sound cheesy, for me it seemed very heartfelt, from J Dilla but also from Tom; a kind of misch-on statement, if you will (I’ll see myself out). The love that this young artist has for his craft is unquestionable. It is the sap running right through every track, sticky and sweet. The album is a family affair, adding further to its sense of closeness and warmth – both sisters feature, on vocals and saxophone, and his mum designed the cover art. There’s even an appearance from long-time collaborator and friend Loyle Carner on one of the best tracks off the album, ‘Water Baby’ (rapping about his mum again, bless).
Considering Misch’s clear dedication to his craft, it’s somewhat paradoxical that the main issue with Geography is its lack of emotional weight. Listening to the album, it is evident that Misch’s passion is for the music and the instrumentation over the message and overall impact of his songs. This preference has led to lazy lyric-writing throughout. Lyrics often feel like an afterthought, put in to complement the instrumentation instead of fulfilling any more meaningful purpose. At least six of the songs on the album are addressed to an anonymous ‘you’, some faceless lover: ‘Cos you’re on my mind / You’re all I can find’ (‘You’re On My Mind’), ‘You and I, cannot be replaced, no / Cos you and I, you and I will find a way’ (‘Cos I Love You’), ‘We could be out here together / But you had places to go’ (‘South of the River’), etc. etc. The lyrics are so vague that these songs could be about anyone, written by anyone. For an artist as interesting as Tom, this lets him down. The strongest moments lyrically are all from his guest rappers: Loyle Carner, Goldlink (although incredibly briefly) and De La Soul’s Posdnuos. This causes most of the album to sound hollow – another nice bit of background music, but not much more.
My favorite song on Geography is ‘It Runs Through Me,’ a relentlessly joyful track with a strong Bossa Nova lounge music vibe and an excellent feature from De La Soul. This track demonstrates what is possible when both Misch’s music and lyrics work together to relay an honest, albeit simple, message. The difference is that this song is addressed to Tom’s actual true love: his music. ‘You can’t take this away from me / The way I hit the melody / The waves bring clarity / Running through me.’ When he and De La Soul sing together on the second chorus you can practically hear their grins – it’s impossible to resist. In a way, the genuineness of this song only emphasises the insincerity of most of the rest of the album. But it also gives me hope that Tom will someday soon find his voice as an artist rather than just as a producer or an instrumentalist.
Reading an interview Misch did with NME, I came across an explanation for this emotional disconnect. He confesses: “when I finished Geography I kind of felt like, ‘fuck making music for a couple of years.’ I just want to do other stuff now.” Although this is his debut, Misch began producing at 16 and has since put out a considerable amount of music. He sounds burnt out and unfortunately it shows. Perhaps seriously, perhaps with a tongue in his cheek, he suggested studying Geography for a while, a potential mistress and his album’s namesake. I suppose that every relationship has their rocky patches, although I hope in this case there’ll be a reconciliation – if only to help me after a night out, AUX cable in hand, desperately thinking of something chill to put on.
-- Freddie Martin, May 3, 2018