ALBUM REVIEW: Moses Boyd Soundtracks Dark Days in the U.K.

The drummer/producer’s solo debut is a post-Brexit masterpiece.

People who don’t like jazz don’t like music. They say it’s fiddly and tricky and won’t follow the rules. If that’s how you feel, Coldplay has got a new record out. Or you could just go and stand somewhere quietly and not talk to me about it.

London duo Binker and Moses released their debut album, Dem Ones, back in 2016, amid the movement of great new artists reclaiming jazz from the clutches of idiocy: The Comet Is Coming, Sons of Kemet, Ezra Collective, Maisha, SEED Ensemble, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat… A lot of exciting new music getting raved about by the mainstream press. 

Now, Moses Boyd has released his solo debut. I wonder about drummers going out on their own. Ringo’s Beucoups of Blues. Keith Moon’s Two Sides of The Moon. Alan White’s Ramshackled. For fuck’s sake.

Fortunately, Dark Matter focuses around the rhythm and works out from there. Lots of sinister heavy bass and wild drums. It sounds a bit like Burial if he got really pissed off about the state of the country and the world. It sounds like Jamie xx might sound if he was a bit hungrier.

I’d ordered the Dinked edition, which was supposed to come on grey vinyl and draped in a black Union flag. Sadly, they sent me the indie splatter edition instead. The vinyl looks incredible, like a monstrous eye, each of the four sides different, peering at me like Swamp Thing. Each LP is housed in a mirror shiny inner sleeve. The outer sleeve is black and has a graphic of an Olympic style torch picked out in white. I’m telling you this because I think it’s important. A light in the darkness. That the flame is also a Union flag adds a certain note of despair, as if the all black cover with the chiaroscuro of the graphic wasn’t despairing enough.

The U.K. left the E.U. on January 31. This comes after a landslide victory for the Conservative party in the election before Christmas. We now have our own spoilt baby in a position of utmost power. Already, funding has been stripped out of the very communities that voted for him. Already, he has started to replace members of his cabinet if they don’t fall into line. It took less than two months. And we’re no closer to knowing the truth of the cost of our divorce from Europe.

When the nuclear threat seemed like something from comic book fiction, Prince celebrated the impending apocalypse as an opportunity to party like it was 1999. A few years later, this exuberance was gone, replaced by a Spartan funk on Sign O’ The Times. Similarly, Moses Boyd sets us up for the dance floor, but it’s a stripped back affair. This isn’t the place to tear it up like it’s your last night on the planet. This dance floor is a place to lose yourself in, allow despair to wash over you, dance because there’s nothing else to do. At least it’s tax free. 

While Burial’s similarly bleak Untrue, with its similar colour palette, shuffled and hummed like the sound of the club that you couldn’t get into, but you could hear the muffled beats and the occasional pulse of vocal or melody, Dark Matter gets you in, past the coat check, down the steel stairs, across a sticky floor to the bar. It’s warm cans of Red Stripe and tepid bottles of unbranded mineral water. Everyone’s drinking out of plastic cups. The smell of kush is strong and its dark. Occasionally, a strobe light flickers. The beat is frantic and unceasing. Bass lines drop in and out. Disembodied voices rise up out of the murk, sometimes pleading, sometimes whispering, sometimes angelic. Screeds of afrobeat drumming surge up out of the music. Weird electronic sounds chafe up against you.  You dance. You’re drenched in beer and sweat and water. Still you dance. Dancing might make the nightmare go away. The rage inside of you can be quelled by this leviathan of a record. Because for all of its sinister heavy qualities, this is a record of release and relief. A record that drops exactly two weeks after the U.K. leaves Europe, and on St. Valentine’s Day no less. 

It’s February. I’ve been living with this record for a week. It’s probably the best album of the year. I can’t imagine anything better emerging from this ailing land any time soon…

Score: 🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧 / 5