Review: 'What Kinda Music' is a creative triumph

by Charlie Palsho | 5/7/20 2:10am

Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes released their latest project, “What Kinda Music,” through the jazz label Blue Note Records on April 24. Their collaboration is an experimental album combining the upbeat, polished chords and production of Misch with the jazzier, more experimentally inclined sound of the drummer Dayes. “What Kinda Music” is Misch’s first project since his 2018 album “Geography” and is also Dayes’ first album release since 2017. “What Kinda Music” is exactly what the name implies — a genre-defying album, incorporating the best of both Misch and Dayes. It’s a project that’s part electronica, part jazz and part hip-hop. Dayes’ experimental inventiveness melds with Misch’s catchy chords and pitch-perfect voice (and a well-rounded range of featured artists) to create an original UK sound.

The roots of “What Kinda Music” go back almost 15 years. In an interview with NPR, Misch said that he remembered first seeing a nine-year-old Dayes play the drums at a talent show when Misch was seven. The two finally met again 15 years later at Misch’s launch party for “Geography,” and by that time, a mutual respect had already been established. When they first set out recording in the studio, they had no expectations besides jamming together and experimenting. Misch recalled that the pair had three or four tracks complete before they knew it, and the two thought, “Why not make a whole album?” Since there wasn’t any pressure on the project, Misch said that “What Kinda Music” came about organically.

The organic nature of their recording process comes through most clearly in the natural give-and-take between the duo on tracks like “Tidal Wave” and “Kyiv.” “Tidal Wave” finds a balance between Dayes’ hollow-sounding drum rolls and Misch’s soft vocals. Dayes’ drum beat provides more depth to the song than was present in “Geography.” It is a refreshing and unique break from Misch’s usually crystal-clear and smooth production. “Kyiv” exemplifies Misch and Dayes’ productive collaboration perhaps more so than any other song. The pair recorded “Kyiv” as a jam session  — it is a fully improvised piece of music, yet Dayes’ drumming and Misch’s guitar chords come together incredibly tightly, demonstrating the duo’s natural and explosive chemistry.

Although this project is a collaborative one, Misch’s sound makes up a slight majority of “What Kinda Music.” Tracks like “The Real,” “I Did it For You” and “Julie Mangos” make it sound as though Misch is the star of the “What Kinda Music” show. “The Real” features a bright, chopped-up Aretha Franklin sample that sets the stage for Misch to sing reflectively in the middle of the track. Dayes’ drums accentuate both the sample and Misch’s singing well, but Misch seems to take center stage. The most “Tom Misch” song in the album is “I Did it For You,” which could have been part of “Geography.” Its lively chords and pop and R&B sound mixed with Misch’s vocals make it seem slightly out of place in the album compared to the more complex sounds of “Tidal Wave” and “Kyiv.” “Julie Mangos” also holds the spotlight more on Misch than on Dayes. In the beginning of the track, there is a recording of Misch and another unidentified man having a conversation about “What Kinda Music” and how it compares to “Geography.” This makes it sound as though Misch is boasting about his new, broader range of musical prowess rather than celebrating the new sound that he has created with Dayes. However, the chemistry between Misch and Dayes is not compromised by the focus on Misch. A reliance on Misch’s knowledge of popular song structure merely makes the experimental quality of the album more accessible to the untrained ear.

Since both Misch and Dayes hail from southeast London, it was only proper for the duo to incorporate the famously collaborative South London jazz scene into “What Kinda Music.” Kaidi Akinnibi’s feature in “Storm Before the Calm” and Rocco Palladino’s feature in “Lift Off” made for interesting rhythmic supplements to the album. Perhaps the most interesting part of the featured artists on this album is how seamlessly they seem to fit into their respective songs. Their smooth integration further demonstrates the collaborative nature of “What Kinda Music” and how critical collaboration is to its success. The flawless integration of Akinnibi and Palladino enhance the spirit of collaboration at the core of this album and add to the sound of “What Kinda Music” subtly but significantly.

Misch and Dayes’ “What Kinda Music” is both an experiment and a triumph, combining a wide array of new sounds from each artist including jazz, hip-hop, electronica and their known specialties — Misch’s production, guitar and voice, and Dayes’ bold flair and drumming. The album leans on Misch’s sound more heavily to bring their new experimental sound to a greater audience, and the subtle incorporation of Akinnibi, Freddie Gibbs and Palladino add to the menagerie of genres on the album. “What Kinda Music” makes the listener ask: Wow! What kind of music is this?!