reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
With more than 25 years’ worth of experience in making house music, Matthew Herbert knows more than most how to make people dance. He has done so in a wide variety of ways, none more so than in his so-called ‘domestic’ albums Around The House and Bodily Functions – where the music was made from home appliances and the human body respectively.
Musca completes a trilogy of these albums, as far as the production goes – with added vocals from eight singers who Herbert had not met at the time of recording. It is, in effect, the ultimate lockdown album.
What’s the music like?
If you liked Herbert’s 1990s deep house, with its experimental tendencies and intimate language, you’ll love this. To get his musical sounds the composer manipulated a number of sounds from around the farm where he lives – so there are cameos from the pigs, dogs and foxes to name just a few. This being Herbert the sounds are expertly treated and fashioned into the language of house music, which on this occasion is a soulful model, especially with some of the vocalists involved.
Bianca Rose stands out for her contributions to Chain Reaction, Gold Dust and Let Me Sleep. The first of these has a lovely choral effect that Herbert secures as part of his word painting, while the last is a dreamy, piano-led nocturnal number with a wide sonic scope. Verushka is another to stand out on Fantasy, which has a clunking beat reminiscent of mid-90s Herbert and a sublime vocal.
Allie Armstrong is also an ideal foil for Herbert’s music, with the sombre but curiously moving The Horror a standout among her three contributions, its lyrics especially moving. The Impossible, meanwhile, has the backdrop of what sounds like a dripping tap in a barn, but the multi-tracked vocals are like a warm blanket in the coda.
Meanwhile Hypnotised, with Mel Uye-Parker, works really well thanks to deep keyboards and lovely layered vocals to dive into. It comes off the back of the treated vocals of Joy Morgan in Two Doors, with shuffling beats the backdrop to quite an eerie experience.
Only one of the 14 tracks is instrumental, The Slip positioned in the centre of the album and taking a jazzier profile, with flute solo and plucked bass.
Does it all work?
It does, largely. Part of this will depend on your approach to Herbert, for if you started listening to him because of his house music ventures you will definitely warm to this. It has an urban and soulful charm, with its beautifully layered textures, and its songs are constantly shifting, never too repetitive.
Is it recommended?
Very much so – for Musca is an album that is at turns relaxing, hypnotic, moving and subtly inspiring. Herbert’s command of the beats ensures there is never a moment wasted.