Eschewing the claustrophobic confines are warehouse raves, for his latest album globally renowned producer MJ Cole instead draws his influence from something fleeting, fragile and ultimately much more elegant.
‘Madrugada’. Those few haunting, ethereal and somewhat strange hours right before sunrise. A time one would expect a producer of electronic music to be somewhat accustomed to, but not perhaps, to drink in and absorb the way Cole has.
A complete departure from his career as a pop and dance producer, ‘Madrugada’ finds him drawing on his formative years; days spent practising piano and nights spent listening composers such as Schumann and Brahms on a Walkman. Like all teens however, Cole also harboured a rebellious streak, skateboarding and spraying graffiti, subcultures perched arguably on society’s fringes, and for whom those few precious hours before sunrise are a godsend.
The result is a record that seems to bridge the gap between those two parts of Cole’s life. Effortlessly elegant arrangements stemming from his interest and training in classical music, harbouring a darker, more dangerous edge – a juxtaposed aural equivalent of the time to which the record owes so much.
Opening track ‘A Visit To Lolita’ sets the tone of the record perfectly. A piano, the backbone of Madrugada throughout, is accompanied by nothing save from the sound of Cole’s foot on a pedal, or the occasional rustle of clothing. It’s something that appears across the course of the album, serving to showcase its intimacy, while also using the piano as a ‘living, breathing instrument’: an intake of breath on the understated ‘Psalm 892’ for example.
Nowhere is this more evident on fourth track ‘Knocking’, in which much of the instrumentation comes from the piano itself, including the layers of percussion that serve to add to the track’s freneticism. For each track of simplistic beauty however, there’s also those that feel grander, and more encompassing, usually thanks to a combination of piano, rich swells of string, subtle electronics and occasional bass.
Perhaps the best example of these are the previously released ‘Cathedral’ and ’90 Miles’. The latter a steady inexorable progression that, much like the sunrise, builds to an optimistic crescendo before plateauing into a conclusion while the latter is the perfect accompaniment to a late night/early morning drive, it feels more akin to a Bonobo track than anything else on the record. A marriage of synth and strings serve to create an evocative cocoon in which understated percussion and frenetic keys flirt with ephemeral melodies.
While seemingly a far cry from much of Cole’s early work. It’s clear that despite the pervading neo-classical influence of the record, what it does share with the rest of his canon is a clear, deft understanding of music that can’t be argued against. At a time when much of the world is forced to stay indoors, ‘Madrugada’ provides a breath of fresh air.
Words: Dave Beech
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