Bring Backs

Bring Backs

“You can never get to a point where the music is perfect,” London pianist, rapper, and composer Alfa Mist tells Apple Music. “You just have to be in the moment that feels right.” This prioritizing of intuitive feeling over cold perfectionism is a trait that has seen Mist produce a remarkable amount of perceptive and ever-changing work. There have been collaborative projects with singer Emmavie, drummer Richard Spaven, and musician Lester Duval, as well as two self-released albums, three EPs, and features with Jordan Rakei, Yussef Dayes, and Tom Misch. Where 2017’s Antiphon interspersed Mist’s jazz-referencing compositions with conversations with his brothers on the meaning of family, and 2019’s Structuralism featured dialogue with his sister on the formulation of identity, Bring Backs is equally considered and thematic. Built around a sensuous and impressionistic poem written by Hilary Thomas, Bring Backs explores the effects immigration has on the understanding of our lives and the world, while referencing a card game Mist would play as a child where a “bring back” could see you pulled into the game again, even if you thought you had already won. It is a metaphor that has continued to resonate. “Growing up, I saw how people’s success could disappear as quickly as it came,” Mist says, “and that means you then live unsure of what you can hold on to—it creates an instability in your place in the world, and that’s where I wrote this album from.” Here he talks through each of Bring Backs’ tracks. “Teki” “‘Teki’ is a song about being in a battle with yourself. In Japanese, the word means ‘enemy’ or ‘opposition,’ and in the UK when things are difficult or hard to navigate, you might say, ‘This is a bit teki.’ This battle is not about conquering yourself, it’s about leading to a knowing of yourself and having an understanding of who it is you are. The guitar is prevalent since I really like post-rock and bands like Radiohead. The softer harmony meets an energetic, harsh guitar line—and that’s the conflict in the music itself.” “People” (feat. Kaya Thomas-Dyke) “‘People’ has no piano on it, as I wanted to make a conscious effort to show my composing side, rather than only being seen as a jazz-piano guy. I first came up with the tune on bass, which is often the case, because I find the simplest things will sound amazing on bass or guitar. The lyrics were written and sung by a frequent collaborator of mine, Kaya Thomas-Dyke. She’s talking about how you have to acknowledge how people become who they are and their own stories, as that’s how we can all build compassion for each other.” “Mind the Gap” (feat. Lex Amor) “The opening has a recording of the tube announcement from my usual journey, which is where I listen to a lot of music and do a lot of writing. ‘Mind the gap’ is a phrase you hear on the tube all the time, but the song is more about the times where we grow tired of everything for a moment—we might not have the capacity to take on other people's issues then, and we have to be aware of that. I’ve known Lex Amor for a few years. Her voice is soft and it fits perfectly. The guitar and the drumbeat is quite stuttery, which reminded me of the sound of the train tracks too.” “Run Outs” “I come from Newham, which is a place where grime was very prevalent, and some of the first beats I made had a grime vibe to them. I wanted to return to that style because I had previously separated playing piano from beat-making, but in the last few years I realized that to truly sound like myself, I’ve got to bridge these two aspects together. ‘Run Outs’ is a perfect example of that marrying of the two styles, and the title comes from another childhood game I’d play, which is like tag but in teams.” “Last Card (Bumper Cars)” “This track really focuses on Hilary Thomas’ poem. It’s giving space for her to speak about a character’s journey to get to this country and things that she can remember from her childhood back home—so there are no drums at the beginning, the song just flows around her speech, and then it transitions into another tune called ‘Bumper Cars’ at the end. This one is influenced by the Madlib Beat Konducta songs I always used to listen to and how he would flip these found theme songs and samples into something entirely different.” “Coasting” “‘Coasting’ is exactly how the song feels, like you’re coasting along. I worked with an amazing strings player and arranger, Peggy Nolan, on the song, and we were thinking in terms of layering, and how to build this tune to just keep it going and floating along. We only play the theme at the start and then we never go back to it—it flows and then it’s done. Essentially, it’s a journey from one place to another through improvisations, never returning to where it's been.” “Attune” “We recorded all the tracks to tape. We could do two takes in the sessions and then if we wanted to do a third one, we’d have to record over one of the previous takes. I liked that limitation—I’m a perfectionist, but if I stuck to that, then nothing would ever come out. We’re choosing the moment that feels right, rather than repeating something until you feel like it’s perfect, and you can hear that on ‘Attune.’” “Once a Year” “I really enjoy writing string arrangements, and this track was written for Peggy, who played the cello like it was a quartet by recording the parts four times. That cello sound is quite dark and sombre, and it is perfect for this record because the themes are self-reflective and introspective. The song itself is about how I’d only really see a lot of my relatives on Christmas because of the hustle and bustle of life—it’s remembering that time of family togetherness.” “Organic Rust” “I wanted Rocco Palladino and Richard Spaven on this track as I've been playing with them both for years so I knew they'd be perfect for its hip-hop feel. ‘Organic Rust’ deals with similar themes to ‘Mind the Gap,’ talking about the times where it feels like everyone is performing and nobody’s being themselves and so you begin to question the point of what it is you’re doing. Lyrically, everything in there is a metaphor, since I like to keep things ambiguous. I want to ask the questions and then walk away.”

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