Album Review: Mala – Mirrors [Brownswood Recordings, 24th June 2016]

Released on Brownswood Recordings, Gilles Petersons‘ label, Mirrors is the second album by Mala, South London producer and DJ, half of the duo Digital Mystkz and co-founder of the club night DMZ, one of dubstep’s “most influential regular clubnights” and “central to the scene”.

Indeed, dubstep is a major influence on the music of Mirrors, however it would be unfair and simplistic to describe it as a dubstep album. Mirrors is rather a sophisticated blend of the heavy bass of London’s underground music and the rhythms of Peru, resulting in a sound that is new yet out of time, familiar yet foreign. The 14 tracks that made it onto the album are the result of a month spent travelling far and wide in Peru, where Mala encountered the many musical traditions of the country, experimented with one-of-a-kind instruments made from donkey jawbones and dried-out pumpkins, and met some of the most talented and influential Peruvian musicians, singers and dancers, such as Asociacion Juvenil Puno, Colectivo Palenke and Sylvia Falcon, who lent a hand in the making of Mirrors.

It is not the first time Mala chooses to delve into the music of a Latin country. In the 2011, he chose Cuba, where he travelled to with Gilles Peterson, and a year later released his first full-length work, Mala in Cuba.

The reason why he might have a penchant for these countries can be traced in the crucial role percussions have in both the Cuban and the Peruvian traditions, that primal rhythm that is at the roots of dubstep too. It is indeed around percussions that Mirrors is built, around tempo and flow, in a better constructed way compared to Mala in Cuba, probably due to the fact that it took 3-4 years for Mirrors to be completed.

Along more dance floor-friendly instrumental tunes such as ‘Kotos’, ‘Cusco Street Scene’ and ‘Inga Gani’, one might find it surprising to stumble upon the tender female voices who sung on much slower tracks such as ‘Cunumicita’ and ‘Sound Of The River’, or the acoustic guitar of ‘Taking Flight’.

This confirms the versatility of Mirrors, that might sound repetitive and monotonous at first, but that later discloses its many subtle faces. ‘Zapateo’ confirms what was just said. It is not another breakbeat track, but a fascinating remake of a traditional shoe tapping dance performance, framed in laptop-made beats, representative of the whole project behind the album. An album that deserves to be listened to.