Mala follows 2012’s ‘Mala In Cuba’ with a Peru-inspired long player that is definitely not called ‘Mala In Peru’. And nor, for that matter, should it be. On this latest effort for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, Mala manages to remove himself from the picture in the same way that a great writer can from a story. Like the best producers in the business, he creates space for the instruments used to really sing.
Space is something that he’s more than familiar with: it’s foundational in his take on dubstep music, and was referenced in the title of his ‘Return II Space’ LP for his own DMZ imprint. In this context, it allows the deep textures of the zampolla to breathe without being drowned out by Mala’s characteristic chest-caressing basslines.
Perhaps one of the South London producer’s most under-recognised talents is his ear for a hook. Old time classics such as ‘Neverland’, ‘Changes’ or even the more in-your-face likes of ‘Eyez’ have already proven his aptitude, but there’s a new edge on show here. ‘Cusco Street Scene’ invokes a sense of bustle from its title with a criss-cross of piped, earworm melodies; the clipped loops on ‘Kotos’ are infectious.
The relatively unfamiliar use — for Mala at least — of guitars is an interesting addition and ultimately successful, particularly on the pseudo-interlude that is ‘Cunumicita’ (performed by Danitse). Rhythmically, perhaps as expected, ‘Mirrors’ is frankly superb throughout. From the heartbeat that runs through ‘They’re Coming’, to the frenetic ‘4 Elements’, the tight rolls of ‘Take Flight’ or ‘Dedication’’s shuffle: it’s all here.
Some of the record suffers from being a little noodley — ‘Shadows’ being the only standout example - but this can be forgiven both in the face of the scale of the task at hand and the otherwise great aplomb with which it’s been tackled.
While perhaps unfair to maintain comparisons with ‘…In Cuba’, there’s certainly a new maturity in approach here. The result is a greater depth to the connection made with Mala’s host country, which in turn results in an album that, both musically and conceptually, is beautifully complete.
Words: Will Pritchard
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