Puff Daddy is good, but Son Raw is for the children.
Of all the first generation Boxed albums, Mr Mitch’s Parallel Memories was both the most ambitious and the thorniest, stretching past preconceptions of what grime could sound like but often proving a difficult listen. While the narrative surrounding Mitch and his Gobstopper label focused on the anti-agro vibes of his Peace Edit series, which re-contextualized 140BPM bangers into blissed out lullabies, Mitch’s proper LP focused on the darker side of human emotions and experiences, exploring alternate worlds of breakups and marital disaster. When it worked it was powerful, but it was often too frosty for its own good—it wasn’t the kind of record I found myself reaching for as often as I’d have liked to considering I was already a fan of Mitch’s music.
Sophomore album Devout immediately redresses this imbalance, opening with an intro so warm and inviting that you have to imagine the album’s spring release is strategic. Lifted by Mitch’s own vocals and a few choice contributions from his son, the track is just as distant from Parallel Memories’ gloom as that album was from boilerplate instrumental grime. It sets the stage for an LP of reflections on family and fatherhood set to what’s essentially contemporary synth pop. It’s a daring move, but fans of the genre will know it’s not as great a stretch as outsiders might think: enthusiasts have long been pointing out links between the otherworldly work of composers like Ryuichi Sakamoto and sinogrime producers like Wiley, so why not go full circle into electronic pop?*
Of course, grime remains an influence, most obviously on mission statement “Priority” featuring P Money, but also across the album’s judicious use of squarewave sounds, which are more mournful than ever across slower tempos and more emotive contexts. Mitch is still flipping the genre’s tropes inside out, but on Devout, he’s using those means to reach a more conceptually sound end, pushing his experiments to the edge before adding pop vocals to hook in the listener.
Most notably, on “VPN” with singer Palmistry, Mitch cooks up a frostbitten version of the type of dancehall/afrobeats riddim that pop artists like Drake and Ed Sheeran recently rode to the top of the charts, offering an introverted, alternative take on the style that’s twice as subtle and many times as potent. Considering how natural it sounds, and how Mitch has always counted indie-tronica acts among his influences, it feels almost inevitable that the next step in his musical evolution will be a full length collaboration with a vocalist, specifically one with a similar interest in the muted, subtle side of pop.
Devout’s instrumentals don’t quite reach the same highs as the pop tracks individually, so the record ultimately functions best as a cohesive whole, alternating between Mitch’s own musings on love and fatherhood, his guests’ pop hooks, and his synths’ otherworldliness. Ultimately then, perhaps Devout shouldn’t be compared to full on synthpop, but instead to later experimental electronic pop from techno artists breaking free from dance floor limitations. With Devout, Mr Mitch has flown away from grime almost entirely, but he’s flying in skies that are just as inviting and a whole lot warmer.
*As an aside, Mitch is from Catford. So is longtime Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborator and incredible vocalist/songwriter David Sylvian. The universe absolutely demands a meeting of the minds.