With his 2017 self-titled debut album, Mura Masa — a.k.a. 23-year-old Channel Islands spawn Alex Crossan — was nominated for two Grammys, including Best Dance Album, and later won one for his remix of Haim’s “Walking Away.” Guests on the album ranged from A$AP Rocky and Charli XCX to Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn and Desiigner.
Thus, it is rather surprising that his follow-up is — no two ways about it — a rock album. The beats are electronic but virtually every song is driven by guitars, and while Crossan treated his voice heavily on the few songs on the last album that he sang himself, here his voice is comparatively straightforward (although there’s plenty of autotune) and often shows more than a little trace of emo. And with song titles like “No Hope Generation,” “Teenage Headache Dreams” and “Vicarious Living Anthem” (chorus: “I just wanna be someone else”) it’s on-message lyrically too.
Similarly, many of the guests here are rock-leaning — Clairo and Wolf Alice turn in particularly inspired performances — and even “Deal Wiv It,” which features fast-rising British rapper SlowThai, is powered by guitars. Ironically, while “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again,” Clairo’s song, is also rock-oriented — and is one of the strongest tracks here — the hook on the chorus comes almost directly from dance titans Basement Jaxx’s 2001 hit “Where’s Your Head At?” (to be fair, it’s a very simple hook, and Crossan was 5 when it came out).
However, there are two songs that could have fit on the last album. The electronic-leaning track, “In My Mind,” with a bleeping hook reminiscent of Gorillaz and some atmospheric keyboards, while “Live Like We’re Dancing” has a strong four-on-the-floor beat and is powered by throbbing bass and a joyful vocal from Georgia.
Without overstating the point, the innovation that’s happening in today’s rock music is not coming from traditional rock bands — it’s coming from innovative artists that are fusing it with other sounds, ranging from Soundcloud rappers to electronic-inspired outfits like Guerilla Toss to post-metal acts like Deafheaven. In that context, it’s perhaps no surprise that fresh rock sounds are coming from a nominee for 2018’s Best Dance Album Grammy.