Mala in Cuba

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In the same way that the genre "techno" is applied to both the tasteful Derrick May and the garish Scooter, the term "dubstep" had been divided into two camps once the "mall kids" and "punters" got hip. Love it or loathe it, that glitzy "wub wub wub" sound championed by Skrillex and such is a far cry from the texture-rich music of Burial, Benga, and Digital Mystikz, that last name being the South London duo with whom producer Mala broke through. Purists will argue that the Skrillex crowd is so far from the spirit of the original dub reggae that they should abandon that part of the term, and as such, Mala in Cuba was announced as "an intention of realigning dubstep with soundsystem culture,” which it does, splendidly. This glorious album was also constructed from a set of raw tracks recorded in Cuba while on a beat-finding trip with DJ Gilles Peterson (whose Brownswood Recordings label released the album), but Mala is an artist who feels and yearns to communicate, so the final product of these ambitions doesn't come off as overly academic, overly ambitious, or even the least bit calculated. On the contrary, Mala in Cuba is an album filled with life, organic-meets-laptop life with a wide-eyed sense of wonder as key track "Cuba Electronic" combines beats with a Burial-styled cloudiness, shuffling acoustic rhythms, and abstract sounds that take the listener on a mini-vacation/fever dream. "Curfew" is another fine blend of exotic and impossible as jazzy, nostalgic piano gets joyfully stuck in Mala's set of loops, and still the track builds, offering new melodies and a shifting hook, and suddenly, this Digital Mystikz has entered a new realm of composition, building undeniable "songs" out of random bits with no MC required. Inviting music abounds, acting fine as wallpaper but more rewarding with active listening, and while the album first seems like the most fashionable, tasteful vacation postcard in the rack, it's the sentimental and wistful bits that resonate, sticking to the bones with a humility that's unexpected from a genre that often flirts with "too cool." Mala in Cuba is above all that, and if it isn't both the most purposeful and moving album to come out of dubstep, it's got to be at least one of the two.

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