Alfa Mist's Nostalgic 'Bring Backs' Is a Celebration of Origins
Published Apr 21, 2021Alfa Mist discovered jazz through hip-hop. Growing up, the English multi-instrumentalist came across records by the likes of Hi-tek, Madlib and J Dilla, and sought to understand their origins. The world behind the samples began to reveal itself to him, and he decided he wanted to inhabit it, too. Mist taught himself to play piano, and began beat-making and improvising jazz by himself.
By 2017's Antiphon, he had perfected a stylistic fusion of jazz and hip-hop that was unmistakably his. Balancing instrumental improvisation and an intricate rhythmic awareness with spoken-word fragments and lo-fi beats, Mist's sound came into its own with stunning subtlety.
Structuralism, released in 2019, did more of the same, blending conversations with family and warm riffs to create something at once raw and refined. In 2020, he teamed up with soul singer Emmavie to produce the vibrantly melancholic Epoch, only a couple of months after putting out On My Ones, an EP-length love-letter to the piano in which he fully embraced the vulnerability of minimalism.
Not much has changed since Mist's breakthrough album. His new record, Bring Backs, recreates familiar melodic loops, and listeners are accustomed to his precise way of layering sound against distorted conversations. But Mist makes some space for the unexpected here. The poetic verse of "Mind the Gap" — a collaboration with Lex Amor — is a rare showcase of his prowess as a rapper, while "Once a Year" makes an unexpected detour into orchestral strings. "Attune'' epitomizes the magic that occurs when Mist plays freely in improvisational space without aiming for symmetry. Throughout Bring Backs, Mist meditates on temporal space, transformation, and the inevitability of returning, time and time again, to where one once was.
Perhaps, Alfa Mist is less concerned with moving forward than he is driven by nostalgia and a passion for origin stories. From the sentimental family dialogue he has woven into past records to his fixation on the place from which hip-hop beats emerge, it is easy to presume that Mist's work is inspired more by what has been than what could be. After all, possibilities for invention abound in what appears fossilized. Mist is still an experimentalist, based on his daring union of musical worlds. However, his work remains achingly aware of the traditions it is indebted to.
This spirit of remembrance is strong on Bring Backs, just as the title suggests. Mist's first release on Anti- after years of self-production on the Sekito label, the 9-track LP grapples with the spirit of growing up and the ongoing instabilities of the immigrant experience. Mist ponders his personal past while exploring his early musical background. The result is at once a collage of instrumental influences and a sonic diary of the trials that have shaped him.
Bring Backs' centrepiece is a poem by Hilary Thomas, which taps into the struggle of existing between cultural worlds. It is the liminal pulse of a record tense with the conflicting promises of past and future. The poem's final line is "Time is a healer, when there's no turning back." Alfa Mist weaves masterfully from threads of nostalgia, but Bring Backs, when you unravel it, is more of an ode to faith and resilience than a mournful remark on what is gone. (Anti)