Geography should be a culmination of all of Tom Misch’s impressive work up until this point; his growth from a teenager making boom-bap beats in his bedroom to full blown artist embarking on his own headline tour. Misch’s previous projects, such as Beat Tape 1 and 2 as well as 5 Day Mischon, in which he recorded 5 songs in 5 days with different guests for each, have been primarily characterised by his obsession with J Dilla-style beats underneath virtuoso jazz guitar. On these prior outings, Misch honed a catchy sound comprising of a fusion of jazz, funk, hip-hop and acoustic balladry that is uniquely his own. It was this mix of textures and tones that made his previous work so enjoyable and gave his more traditional songs more impact but as a consequence Geography sounds so Tom Misch-y that it actually becomes a little draining.
On his debut effort, almost every song seems to be a mid-tempo jazz-pop jam with minimal stylistic variation. When change in texture or tone does come, such on the gorgeous, arpeggiated Patrick Watson cover ‘Man Like You,’ it is in quantities too small to alter the overall tone of the album. He is not helped by the guest vocal performances throughout the track list, which are not up to the same standards Misch’s collaborators have offered previously. Loyle Carner’s low-slung, relaxed delivery sounds misplaced over ‘Water Baby’, arguably the most pop-orientated track on the album, while De La Soul’s rapping in ‘It Runs Through Me’ lacks flow and direction and Goldlink’s contribution to ‘Lost in Paris’ is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief. Misch’s own voice is foregrounded across the record and while it isn’t terrible, his half-sung, half-spoken delivery does noticeably begin to lack substantial range or variation after 13 tracks.
That is not to say this is a bad album, merely a slightly formulaic and predictable one. When taken individually, most of the songs on Geography are great. ‘Movie’ is a gorgeous romantic ode, framed by Misch’s sister’s lovely vocal interlude and a slick riff that casually strolls its way through the track’s extended runtime. ‘South of the River’ is an immensely catchy lead single, with a nice bass motif throughout and a free-jam style outro, while ‘Disco Yes’ adds some increased tempo to the mix, with Poppy Ajudha’s guest vocals being the most impressive on the entire record.
Misch still has a great ear for a catchy hook and a smooth guitar lick, but when they’re all quite similar in delivery the effect becomes far less invigorating and his smooth sound can give way to boredom. As Daniel Wray hilariously observed in The Guardian’s live review of Misch’s show at Manchester’s O2 Ritz, he is dangerously close to becoming the “Mark Knopfler of the ketamine generation.” While that statement may be a large assumption so early into his career, if he releases another album in this vein his enjoyably infectious formula is at serious risk of becoming stale.