Murlo Combines Extroverted Joy & Introverted Fantasy On Sophomore LP ‘Puckle’ ✨

Words: Son Raw

Much of our favorite music, however you define it, puts a premium on keeping it real. Whether it’s emcees writing from real-life experience in bustling, multicultural cities, or producers shaping instrumentals that seek to order the noise and chaos of those cities to make us dance, the most exciting musical accomplishments of the past 50 years have sought to give voice to those the media would rather silence; and artists almost always use those voices to speak truths. But what happens when an artist uses a skillset tested and shaped through truth-telling and function in the dance, to imagine a new world? What does music sound like when we use it to soundtrack alternate realities of the imagination? On his sophomore album, Puckle, Manchester-based producer Murlo explores these questions, all while creating banging rhythms and fizzy melodies for ravers to lose their heads to.

Murlo has been building towards this statement for a while. Whether live streaming his visual art practice or launching his worldbuilding approach on Dolos, his well-received debut, the artist has never gone typical packaging, surrounding his ultra-colorful music with visuals and narratives that set it apart from the hardboiled realism usually associated with grime and garage. That’s not to say he lacks cred: having earned his early stripes mixing at parties like Boxed in London and Swing Ting in Manchester (R.I.P both) and releasing on labels as varied as Oil Gang and Mixpak, the man has been a valued contributor to UK bass culture from the jump. Over the past few years however, what began as an idiosyncratic streak has fully evolved into a deeply personal take on rave music through releases on his own label, Coil. The music he’s made since striking out on his own embraces the high-fidelity futurism of dance music at its most populist and the whimsy of fantasy, in equal measure.

Building on the storyline that began on his Club Coil and Dolos releases, Puckle is a loose concept album about a synthetic AI turned demigod of the same name, with the music supplemented through visual art, sculpture and a compendium of writing. That’s a lot to take in for first time, casual listeners, but thankfully, Murlo’s music has a habit of grabbing you from the jump and never letting go, piling sugar-rush chords to madly swung beats with the intensity and ecstasy dialed up to 11 each time. That means that diehards and the narratively inclined can deep dive into the project’s lore (if they grab a bundle while supplies last) while more casual listeners can stick to the tunes.

And what a collection of tunes. Puckle is Murlo’s most accomplished and varied release yet, as he applies his signature strings, synths and percussion to an ever-expanding universe of styles. Opener and first single “Carapace” opens atmospherically, but by the drop, euphoric ‘90s rave stabs meet melodic arpeggios and 150BPM breaks—all rendered and mixed crystal-clear to form a tune equal parts club banger and half remembered PS3 fighting game soundtrack. “High Heaven” then continues the upbeat mood with chunky, hyper-swung, chunky UKG rhythms and a squelching synth lead straight out of a P-Funk record, before settling into a driving 4x4 pulse. Perhaps what’s most impressive here, is that despite sequencing the album as a complete listen with a detailed concept, these tracks are absolute club bangers just daring club DJs to give them a go. In an era of genre hyper-fragmentation and playlists playing it safe, this kind of risk-taking and experimentation feels all the more exciting.

Take “Solstice” and “Calcium”, two near-D&B tempo tunes full of saucer-eyed enthusiasm and cut-up vocals that even verge on happy hardcore’s high-speed euphoria (minus that genre’s cheese) and would fit nicely with the most tuneful and interesting music of the hyperpop wave. Conversely, “Elosion”—a nuanced, mid-tempo update to sinogrime’s brash leads—feels like grime, but slows it down and chills it out, never needing to respect the genre’s expectations regarding tempo or vibe. It is yet another successful fusion on an album full of interesting experiments, one highlighting how Murlo’s melodies and the timbre of his synths have become so instantly recognisable that he can “Murlofy” pretty much any style.

Then there’s “Gobsmack”, the album’s straight-up banger and one of the best dubstep tracks in recent memory. Bar the breakdowns, which indulge in Murlo’s patented string plucks and melodies, it’s practically a tribute to the best of Coki and Loefah’s DMZ material, with the tempo jacked up about 10BPM for added energy. It’s the rare case where the producer colours within the lines, and it works like a treat, practically begging for a reload in a busy dance.

Puckle is a deeply personal work, and listeners on the lookout for material like Murlo’s evergreen “Naila” remix for AJ Tracey might scratch their heads on first listen, but it’s also the kind of release that’s essential for garage and grime. Over 25 years since the first 2-step boom took over clubs and 15 since Burial reimagined the genre for introverts, Puckle squares that circle by proving that exuberant club material and fantastic interior worlds need not be separate pursuits. And while its narrative raises serious questions about AI and worship, the record’s greatest accomplishment is reminding us all that conceptual dance music can be serious fun.

Posted on August 30, 2023