“Art is a mirror of society,” says a voice in the opening track of Tom Misch‘s debut album, Geography.
Fair play to the lad, his organic and grassroots success has been the consequence of some bloody hard graft (not to mention delightfully baffling all the traditional routes to fame). But both that quote and the album title are quite telling: Tom Misch scours the world, grabs a little from here and there – primarily, it has to be said, from black artists – and comes out with something that’s enjoyable even despite its magpie-like approach.
A lot of this hinges on Misch’s charisma as a singer and guitarist. He feels the flow of his own sound (most evident in his live performance, should you ever catch one), but adds little flourishes that remind us why he’s in his current position. Brass punctuates Lost In Paris, strings buttress South Of The River, and Tom Misch’s brand of jazz-funk-soul somehow becomes his own in a matter of minutes.
Does it feel like appropriation? On occasion, yes. But Misch is careful to firstly retain his own stamp on things – these are very much Tom Misch songs, not some cobbled pastiche – and whenever it does venture beyond that it usually comes across as homage instead. In the former category lie songs such as Man Like You and Disco Yes (wonderfully aided by Poppy Ajudha), the latter some Robert Glasper-indebted instrumentals that keep the party going.
Man Like You is a moment where Tom Misch comes into his own though. He reveals himself as a vulnerable and engaging storyteller, much like You’re On My Mind, and quite a prodigious songwriter. Geography doesn’t outstay its welcome, though, and closes before there’s even the slightest feeling of repetition; for a debut album that’s a ridiculously impressive feat as it is, and for someone with as many eyes on them as Tom Misch it’s practically award-worthy.