Review Summary: your own private island
Will Marquiss and Michael Holliday have been carving a unique path through the world of drum & bass music for some time now. While their initial imprint outings of the mid-2010's generally fit traditional molds, over the years their forays into soul-tinted liquid, deep jungle and even dubstep have become increasingly distinguished and unwavering in dedication to quality. With EP's touching down on some of the scene's most respected labels, the past bulk of a decade has witnessed Mystic State growing into a sound all their own, with releases like 2017's If I Could
4-tracker, and last year's Circles EP
on Context Audio posing as prime examples of how they've been steadily pushing their aesthetics towards an identifiably signature sound. Fast forward to the dystopian parallel reality known as 2020, and the intercontinental duo's belt notches on Artikal Music, alongside the blooming of their own boundary pushing record label, The Chikara Project, show their body of work growing into something that elevates them well above the scenes they descend into. Wherever they go, their work always feels real, woven with the same genuine passion and lust for evocative headspaces that venerated artists like Djrum, Calibre, Instra:mental and Sorrow made influential careers out of. Thanks to this strong lean towards crafting music with an emotional intelligence that can still pack a dancefloor, they've been drawing the kind of audience that appreciates a healthy degree of sensitivity with their serving of heady bass. Its this same audience that will be first to make a fuss about their debut LP, over 4 years in the quiet making, but they'll be far from the last. My Own Private Island
is a statement piece that's sure to make waves, and one that can and will cement itself as a bonafide classic in the electronic music world.
The thing is, Mystic State has been hinting at what their brilliantly paced long-player might sound like for a good while. With their launch of The Chikara Project in 2017, they established a platform that gave them complete creative control over their own sound, with the result being an emphasis on their refinement towards delicate, colourful and impactful bass music that prioritizes nectar-sweet moods over chart-hunting vanity. Through numerous EPs and collaborative efforts on this autonomous label and beyond, they've kept their fans busy while they chiseled the 14 tracks that comprise this hour and a quarter journey around a microcosm of kaleidoscopic and luxuriant low frequencies. You can hear their trademark sound and the perfectionism it took to craft this thing right off the bat, with "Expectations"' distant croons, silky maneuvers and lustful bassline setting up the LP's modus operandi in a big way. Things only pick up steam from there as it marches towards the substantial guts of the matter; a place chock full of dynamism and panache that paddles towards a closing trio of tracks that not only wrap things up with poise and politesse, but really underscore how important this album is in the context of contemporary drum & bass.
There are few artists in the underground scene today that can marry graceful textures and headline-hour energy for an entire full-length album and
keep everything on the rails while they do it, but that’s exactly the what these gentlemen have done here. The subtle artistry on display is both unflinching and intentionally curated, creating an experience that is nothing short of a unique aural ecstasy that unfolds like a lotus flower, showing pure humanity and soul at the heart of its petals. With movements like "Phased Out" and "Audition" highlighting trademark angelic vocals that don't just float above the music, but engrain themselves into the very genetics of the song's composition, the human element is undeniable and feels wholly organic. It's these seamless curves, sensual motifs and introspective tendencies that underpin this lengthy adventure, but the fact of the matter is, the force that takes this album to untouchable heights is how well these elements compliment a low-end that could crumble any good nightclub's concrete foundation. My Own Private Island
is a veritable cocoon of harmonic bass lines that roll and undulate with relentless vigour, always hard hitting but never overpowering. They're an audiophiles dirty fantasy and a bass-head's wet dream, with tones and timbres that resonate in ways that seem like black magic to us layfolk. To colour the affair in a universal language, it plays out like good sex between selfless lovers; feverishly passionate but ultimately altruistic, never overindulging and always ensuring the balance of pleasure is tipped in your favour. Take, "Mirrors Edge", with its true-to-the-art junglist bones and chopped breaks. Sure, the whole thing could have gone off the chain at any time, but it stays reigned in around the overarching vibe, perfectly panned percussion and deep soundstage, facilitating a dynamic interaction between pastel washes of floating ambiance and angular vocal stabs instead of diving headlong into a temperment that's more unruly than it ought to be. It's a standout tune to be certain, if only for the reason that it emphasizes how My Own Private Island
mixes in the full spectrum of drum & bass without losing an iota of continuity. Between splashes of liquid soul, deep rollers and the odd dubby stepper, the gamut of junglism’s romantic side is run through a dreamy lens that both respects its roots and looks to the future with an undeniable optimism, all whilst remaining firmly rooted in the present moment.
On the whole, this album is as much a complete listening experience as it is a gold-standard grab bag of DJ tools, but these tracks as standalone pieces aren't the sugar-coated bangers that go stale as soon as the uppers wear off. Instead, these highly mixable selections are tailormade for intimate club spaces and mossy festival groves rife with mood lighting and familiar faces. Take the sexy one-two-punch of Congi collaboration "Too Late" and the gorgeous "Haro Strait", with the former brandishing some atom-splitting reese-bass trickery that could levitate boulders, and the latter's 4-on-the-floor romp in the second drop that posits a curveball sure to drive a crowd manic. Both cuts surely boast enough lascivious energy to keep the headspace focused on tender-lovin'-goodness, but thanks to their subtle parry between bodacious sub-bass and delicate flutters of enchanted vocal jabs ensnared by blanketing clouds of rainy synths, everything comes together in a very tasteful manner. Moments like this pepper the hour-breaching endeavor, and are threaded into a singular tapestry free of jarring glints. It's the attention to detail that pulls it off, like the tiny sliver of spoken word that breaks up "Expectations"' transition into the R&B-meets-Rhodes-keys of "If You Knew". Go ahead and listen close, scour the finish for imperfections, and hunt for all the spoiled goods that us hoity-toity critics bare our teeth at, because Mystic State simply won't let you down as they carry you high above their private eden and into a sonic nirvana.
Time moves at an uncertain pace here, but the scenery is too nice to be bothered by it. With the aforementioned selections outlining the energetic mid-section of the album, things begin to descend again around the fifty minute mark as the album’s edge broadens its brushstrokes toward a murmured sunset. Beyond that, as you draw near the end of your tour around this sonic paradise, features from JFO and the breathtaking voice of Elana Montgomery lend themselves to a scenic pair of liquid d'n'b tunes that reconcile matters with goosebump-raising effect. The swell of the string section alone in "Fly", as it dances with Montgomery's singing, could make even a marble statue shed tears of reverence, setting up the meandering and genreless downtempo saunter of the title track nicely. They’re a highlight pair, as many of the song’s here are, and they give way with humility to the titular tune’s gentle swoons, spoken word and thick brush strokes of beatless bass waves as it carries you back to the ground before the curtain draws with a bow and a wink.
My Own Private Island
might be butter smooth and savoury as a wagyu steak, but it's undeniably meticulous in both sound design and composition, rendering it a deadly combination of flow and form. Its a balance of forces that doesn't come around often (especially considering its voluptuous runtime), and harkens warm memories of innovative long-players that earn their lofty keep, like J.Sparrow's 2010 Circadian
opus or even the IDM-goes-psybient masterpiece that is AES Dana's Pollen
. When it all works out just right, that extra time simply affords an artist more canvas to work with, and like the masterworks of legends before it, Mystic State took full advantage of it here, turning these 74 minutes of silky drum & bass into a blink of an eye. Indeed, My Own Private Island
is really Your
Own Private Island too; a peaceful place that you can feel in your soul, where you can unwind, find your true self and release all the pent-up stress of day-to-day life. Wherever they sail to next is up to them, as it seems like the great blue horizon is limitless for these Wiltshire natives now, but as of this moment, their debut full-length is an understated gem, a milestone in their own musical journey, and a benchmark for the modern drum & bass landscape.