Misch has said she wants this album to "engulf people in challenging sound-worlds"Twitter/@ellmisch

Laura Misch’s Lonely City mini-album is a challenging exploration of urban living in 2019. The singer, saxophonist and producer’s latest release might not be full of tunes, but there’s a reason people are saying London’s neo-jazz scene is where it's happening: stuff like this.

Listen on Spotify, and you might find that the first track ‘0o0o0o0’ embodies exactly the kind of London edginess you love to hate. Stick with it though - this music has something to say.

Misch has said she wants this album to "engulf people in challenging sound-worlds" inspired by the loneliness, sound and feeling of the city at night. A stand out track, 'Glass Shards', reflects on walking through the city at night alone, surrounded by colossal buildings that are out-of-bounds. Misch describes the song as an expression of the unrealisable "primal urge" to climb the cityscape as if it were a mountain range. With these ideas in mind, walk around after dark with this on headphones, and you’ll quickly hear how this music provides what Misch calls a "sonically peaceful" soundtrack to that feeling of being ‘locked out’.

There’s a reason people are saying London’s neo-jazz scene is where it's happening

Then again, you may never have walked through a city at night and thought about how lonely that space can be. If the intention of this music was to make you feel like that, would it be a good thing? If the slogan for this album was ‘it’ll make you feel so alone’, then you’d avoid it like two big Russian men with a perfume bottle… surely.

Well, firstly, I don’t think anyone has never felt lonely, but to understand a bit more about the point in all this, it’s probably worth looking at the book which inspired some of the ideas behind the album: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.

Laing’s part-academic, part-memoir exploration of urban loneliness came about after a relationship that had taken her to New York from the UK ended, leaving her desperately alone in the big city. Laing says that she became obsessed with finding evidence that other people had felt the same way. One of the major figures who’s work embodied what Laing was looking for was the American artist Edward Hopper, whose paintings have become synonymous with loneliness in the presence of others. Hopper’s life and work plays a major role in Laing’s book, and it’s not difficult to see how paintings like Chair Car might have influenced the music on this album.

Edward Hopper's Chair Car (1965)ibiblio.org

Beyond the theme of loneliness, Lonely City has a political message hidden in it too.

The underwater sounds in 'Citybed' are a response to recent predictions that if we don’t do anything about climate change, cities like London could be facing widespread flooding before the end of the century. Listen to the way gritty synth soundscapes are set against sounds of sea and water, and you begin to get an insight into what this track is getting at. With Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg frontline news, an artistic expression of the future with climate change couldn’t come at a better time.

Beyond the theme of loneliness, Lonely City has a political message hidden in it too

That said, despite the deeply felt meanings behind 'Citybed', it’s definitely one of the weaker songs on the album. It’s easy to empathise with the thinking behind the track, but the end result is one of the more blatant examples of some of the flaws in this genre: a tendency to be overly reliant on the power of echoing synths and minimalist click beats to create an atmosphere. The end result often ends up being a bit lacking in engaging content to distinguish the songs from each other. In other words, because it sounds cool, it’s quite easy for it all to end up sounding a bit like the electro-jazz equivalent of background lounge music.


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Lonely City’s best moments are often defined by lyrics which give meaning to the ambient sounds Misch is so skilled at creating. When Night Drive builds to to the line "your anger is fear", it feels like there’s a powerful message about taking control on offer. And it’s that kind of moment this music should be striving for more of the time. One of the reasons this genre embodies a new golden age for jazz is that it seems to have found a sound that reflects modern city life in a way jazz did throughout the 20th century. Now it needs to focus on words that can turn that sound into expressive music. When it doesn’t, it’s a bit aimless. When it does, it’s fantastic.

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