Son Raw’s next record features a mule’s femur.
Times change, scenes evolve. Dubstep has essentially been handed off to a new generation of fans and practitioners and most of the old guard has either moved onto slower, techno-influenced climes (Pinch, Pev), commercial house (Skream, Scuba) or straight up dub (RSD, Pinch again.) Even the truest of true believers like Youngsta are tentatively making lateral moves, incorporating halftime D&B into their repertoire even as they keep the vibe steely and mechanical. Yet none of these solutions feel fitting for Mala, whose best material united all of those musical strands into a synthesis that was far greater than the sum of its parts. Catch him live and the old dubs still pack as much power as they did a decade ago, but it’s hard to imagine him playing it safe as a producer.
Mirrors is the second album from Mala Mach II, a producer who now counts Giles Peterson as his foremost backer. Part 1, In Cuba, received mixed reviews, and I think some of that is that Cuban musical signifiers can overpower any attempts at fusion—it’s hard to avoid sounding like Buena Vista social step. Mirrors, similarly recorded in Peru using local sounds, could have suffered the same fate, but thankfully the timbres and textures of that country are a far better fit for Mala’s work.
While the occasional pan flute feels a tad too on the nose, the results aren’t that far off from Left Leg Out’s attempts to recreate digital roots with techno’s drive. The formula is inside out, but this time, tracks like Cusco Street Scenes prove engaging, connecting with the tribal aspect of Mala’s earliest work.
Which isn’t to say that Mirrors is a new DMZ 12′. Now more than ever, Mala has transitioned to a role as an album artist, following the same path as UK predecessors like Dego (2 Bad Mice) and Zed Bias, artists who started in dance music only to gravitate towards more organic forms with time. The hardcore mass gripes, but for listeners who missed out on Mala’s wax-only, DJ formatted work the first time around, Mirrors is an excellent introduction to one of music’s most idiosyncratic minds.
Plus, one suspects that the contemporary dubstep is primed for this sort of move towards the organic: go to a dance today and it’s plain to see that Mala’s ethos and even his fashion sense have come to define the deeper side of the scene, down to the number of kids with dreadlocks. No tracksuits needed.
Like the work of later day Madlib, another artist who’s made moves in merging international sounds to urban vibes, this is confident music with nothing to prove and a lot of ground to explore. We’re a long way from 3rd Bass, but if you gave me a budget to go to Peru and make a record out of a donkey’s jaw, I’d already be on a plane.