Album Review: Mura Masa – demon time

[Anchor Point/Interscope; 2022]

Mura Masa scored a big hit in 2016 with “Love$ick”, a colorful mélange of EDM, trap, and balearic electronic styles, all topped off with A$AP Rocky’s laidback flow. The track went platinum in the UK and helped Masa (real name Alexander Crossan) earn Grammy nods for his self-titled debut album. At 20 years old, he was a fresh face in a British pop scene dominated by electronic acts like Calvin Harris and Clean Bandit. But for his sophomore album, instead of chasing hits, he went left.

Released in January 2020 (before shit quite hit the fan), RYC opened with the sound of an acoustic guitar, the project consisting of more emo alt-rock than dancefloor fodder. As Crossan told The Fader that year: “I skipped the difficult second album and went straight to the weird third one.” Unsurprisingly divisive, RYC earned 1 star from The Guardian and 5 stars from NME. While it may have (unintentionally) soundtracked some early quarantine-era anxiety perfectly with its moody lyrics and introverted vibe, RYC ultimately lacked the tempo and style that made Mura Masa pop.

Mura Masa’s third album demon time, then, is no curveball — it’s instead full of club bangers. “In-ter-na-tional on that pussy”, Brooklyn’s BAYLI raps on the opener. Yeah, this music is decidedly not introverted. Single “2gether”, the one track with no feature, is really the only song on demon time that retains RYC’s emo guitar sound. That’s for the best, as it’s also the only song that finds me hitting skip (sorry, dude). Mura Masa has yet to prove himself as a singer-songwriter, but he’s got an undeniable, almost chameleon-like ability to mold his production to the varied styles of his collaborators. In that sense, demon time is definitely a success.

Pick almost any track on demon time and you’ll find a singer or rapper owning their sound over a creative, bouncy beat. Shygirl continues to prove herself as one of the best young voices in pop on standout “hollaback bitch”, her sultry swagger finding a perfect foil in Chanel Tres’ effortless cool. “tonto” finds Honduran-born Isabella Lovestory sounding at home over reggaeton production. And rising star Erika de Casier adds yet another great song to her discography on “e-motions”, which would feel right at home on one of her albums. While I was a bit disappointed to learn that “bbycakes” jacks the chorus of an old hit, 3 of a Kind’s “Babycakes”, the update is still successful. And if you want to record Lil Uzi Vert reimagining 2000s British bubblegum, I’m not one to complain. Can we do H “two” O next?

With the help of some friends, Mura Masa is making quality pop music. And in an era that occasionally feels oversaturated with hyper-pop, demon time is never too frenetic for its own good. It’s short, but these songs groove – see single “blessing me” (with Pa Salieu & Skillibeng), which recently got the remix treatment with an all-too-short Kali Uchis verse. Given that it’s 2022, maybe we’ll even get a deluxe version with extra goodies. In the meantime, demon time hits just right.