There’s something to be said for bad times bringing us good music, and 2020 has been no exception. With everyone stuck at home, some artists have been churning out some frankly incredible work from their home studios–Charli XCX, for example, recorded and released the quarantine album how i’m feeling now earlier this year from her house. Others have been completing and releasing work that’s been in the pipes for a while, and the latter seems to be the case for my favorite album of this weird, weird year: MUZZ’s The Promised Land.
MUZZ–formerly known as Muzzy and actually known as Mustafa Alobaidi–is an electronic and dance musician from the UK who’s been pretty consistent in releasing his high-energy, hard-rock-influenced take on drum and bass music throughout the past few years. He’s seen success with Canadian label Monstercat since 2011, throwing down infectiously upbeat cuts like “Get Crazy”, “Warhead” with Droptek, and “New Age”, which featured Celldweller on vocals. Clearly, MUZZ has had years to perfect his style, which makes 2020’s The Promised Land–Alobaidi’s debut full-length album–all the more exciting.
This record is phenomenal. Let me just get that out of the way. MUZZ has put together a collection of diverse styles and genre blends that still feel like a cohesive whole, which is not easy to do in the electronic/dance sphere. Even when he ventures away from his drum and bass roots, there’s an almost tangible personality to the more experimental tracks on the album that ties everything back to the same producer. This is an album worth listening to all the way through, no skips, all bangers.
Even with this in mind, however, the individual songs on The Promised Land manage to stand out on their own as well. “Nemesis” is reminiscent of MUZZ’s past sci-fi concept work (such as the F Minor Factory EP), with robotic vocal samples warning the listener to “run for [their] f*cking life” before dropping into a groove perfect for doing just that. “The Warehouse”, on the other hand, takes the darker, harder energy of “Nemesis” and turns it into an atmospheric underground party, completing the experience with rap verses from PAV4N and Miss Trouble. Elsewhere, MUZZ’s rock crossovers come to a head with “Salvation”, a collaboration with UK grunge rock group Bloodhounds based around a dangerously slick guitar riff.
If you’re looking for less rage and more sun-in-the-sky, windows-down, wind-in-your-hair vibes, MUZZ has you covered as well. “Out There”, featuring MVE, takes a bit of inspiration from drum and bass/rock band Pendulum and combines a soaring hook (“I won’t turn my back on you”) with swirling melodies and a just-aggressive-enough bassline to keep things moving along. Later on the album, the aptly named “Star Glide” puts Cammie Robinson’s gorgeous vocals into the sonic equivalent of a spaceship gliding through galaxies, all backed by guitar stings and twinkling synthesizers.
There’s enough experimentation on this record to keep things interesting (well, more interesting), with the pop-rock/dubstep crossover “Start Again” standing out as a gorgeous monument to a broken relationship, “The Sanctuary” playing with MUZZ’s cyberpunk interests and acting as a spiritual sequel to his 2015 banger “Junction Seven”, and “Born for This” acting as Alobaidi’s first-ever foray into house music, pulling off the appropriate four-on-the-floor beat and rolling bassline with aplomb. Everything comes to a close with the one-two punch of the gorgeous “Somewhere Else” featuring Danyka Nadeau and “Catharsis” featuring KOVEN, both upbeat, atmospheric songs led by beautiful vocals.
If there’s anything negative to say about this album, it’s that there isn’t nearly enough of it, standing at a tight 11 tracks. The Promised Land calls back to MUZZ’s past work while looking forward in several fascinating ways. There’s enough here for both longtime fans and new listeners to get excited about, whether it’s the genre experimentation, the talented artist features, or Alobaidi demonstrating a mastery of his own style. This record is my favorite of 2020, showcasing a musician and producer at the top of his game, and I certainly hope we don’t have to wait another nine years for another full-length body of work from MUZZ.