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‘Mura Masa’ review: Debut album dances to a different island beat

Mura Masa's debut album bears his name.

Mura Masa's debut album bears his name. Photo Credit: Anchor Point / Downtown / Interscope

MURA MASA

“Mura Masa”

THE GRADE A-

BOTTOM LINE Building a danceable world of sound all his own.

Mura Masa introduces us to a brand-new musical world with his anticipated eponymous debut album — one filled with dance beats, kalimbas and plenty of hip-hop.

Maybe it’s because he grew up as Alex Crossan on the tiny, isolated British island of Guernsey. Maybe it’s because he built these songs essentially by himself, playing all the instruments and producing himself. Or maybe it’s because the 21-year-old phenom simply hears the world of dance music in his own special way.

Whatever the case, “Mura Masa” (Anchor Point / Downtown / Interscope) is one of those special debut albums that changes a genre simply by existence.

On the first single, “1 Night,” Mura Masa takes that lilting island sound that forms the foundation of hits for everyone from Justin Bieber to Calvin Harris and twists it in his own way. Charli XCX’s phrasing gives the vocals an Asian vibe in the verses, enhanced by the sound of steel drums, before picking up a hip-hop swagger for the chorus.

That swagger is in full effect for “Love$ick,” his collaboration with A$AP Rocky, and “All Around the World,” when he teams up with Desiigner. Both are likely hits, but Mura Masa is more interesting when he takes more chances. His collaborations with Bonzai are standouts, as “Nuggets” looks at love as a series of neurological impulses and “What If I Go?” takes Bonzai’s more conventional-sounding R&B vocals and chops up the backing tracks to create something unexpected. Jamie Lidell’s over-the-top soul vocals turn “Nothing Else!” into a funky party anthem, while Damon Albarn’s understated vocals on “Blu” immediately pull you into the spare, pretty ballad.

The frantic “Helpline,” which opens as a punk rock opus and blossoms into a funky synth party led by Tom Tripp, shows how well Mura Masa can bend any style of music to his will and just how good that sounds.

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