Head here to submit your own review of this album.
Our journeys often make little sense until we can retrospectively unpack them. Life is uncontrollable and we face major transition all the time. Taking each day as it comes can allow each moment to blend into the next one - but if we were to observe our existences from above there would be multiple tangents on our maps. In the end, as much as we experience time as a linear progression, we are all the result of many forks in the road and key events change our influences. Perhaps not in the way a Hollywood film character's life changes forever, but in our own unique ways: we leave our homes, we make new friends, we realise who we are, and we attempt to change our place in the world. Our individual experiences are ultimately unified by their differences and contradictions - writer, poet and musician, Musa Okwonga, understands this.
His debut EP, The Nomadic, is brief. Less than thirteen minutes pass between the opening chimes of 'Ring the Bells' and the closing chords of 'And So I'm Here', but it still manages to succinctly analyse the emotions brought on by personal transition. Developed while Okwonga moved between Rio de Janeiro, London, Berlin and Leeds within the space of a calendar year, the impact of composition in transit is obvious. The instrumentals, designed by Paper Tiger's Greg Surmacz, are staggeringly diverse. No track is similar to that which preceded it, nor the one that follows. But their pronounced differences provide a cohesive basis for Okwonga's lyrical musings: development and movement, isolation and reflection, and all while travelling between four different homes. The multiple tangents on Musa's map are throbbing and bright red, each of them with a song title hanging above them.
'Ring the Bells' gives The Nomadic a jump start - its dawn chorus shares blasts of shimmering bell strikes and busy clattering, and brings to mind Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Sympathy'. Musa arrives at the beat in his typically understated spoken-word fashion, almost delivering his opening line with a sigh: "Back again for more of the same / all aboard the train." But ambition to travel lies in his heart, "preparing to go intercontinental, or even fully interstellar." Musa skips through the syllables in a manner that is vaguely reminiscent of Mike Skinner. This continues into 'Freedom is Underway', despite the difference in approach: its new-age electronica belongs behind visuals of Thatcherite yuppies working away at the first Macintosh 128K, or under the voices of university students advertising their campus to undergraduate applicants. Its upbeat and danceable activity is only paused by a beautiful saxophone interlude which rolls until the climax.
But movement and change is the cornerstone of The Nomadic, meaning that before 'Freedom is Underway' can settle, 'Misfits' bursts in, and in such a fashion that would welcome frequent SBTRKT collaborator Sampha. If anybody remembers 'Trials of the Past' from the London DJ's debut, you're in the right ballpark. On 'Misfits', however, we are greeted by a sudden wallop of intrusive sub-bass that brings the track, and the EP as a whole, to a new level. 'Misfits' is the finest moment, capturing not only Musa's detachment while moving through four cities in two different continents, but providing the most aurally arresting moment as well. Musa is at his angriest and Surmacz's instrumentals follow suit. 'Misfits' is closely followed by the closer, 'And So I'm Here', which retrospectively unpacks his taxing voyage. He sits in his armchair, "All outside is too intense / I recall this miracle, the fact that I am here at all." That smooth saxophone returns to see us off as Musa drifts into a deep sleep in front of a blank TV screen, having finally reached his resting place.
But the incredibly personal and introspective style of The Nomadic has cost Musa his choruses. Where melodic vocalists would have provided sweet contrast to Musa's spoken-word style, we instead discover Musa reciting the title of each song four times before he sets about articulating his topics again. Instead of fully-fledged, melodic choruses, we're instead provided with straight-faced passages between verses. But Musa is a natural enforcer of words and living evidence that repetition is still forms one of the strongest pillars of songwriting, 'Misfits' being the shining example. He has that special ability to retrospectively unpack the journey he has embarked on and it makes for compelling listening. With The Nomadic, Okwonga has connected an incredibly diverse range of experiences and musical styles to produce what is and incredibly cohesive body of work. One which sees Musa take his first steps on yet another journey, only with the analytical reflection of this EP now supporting him every step of the way.
This is the place you'll find reviews from 405 Readers. To join in, head here.