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Mr. Mitch - Primary Progressive Music Album Reviews

The British grime producer follows last year’s tender ode to fatherhood with a stark EP that attempts to come to terms with his father’s MS that is as inventive as it is vulnerable.

After listening to Mr. Mitch’s last album, Devout, a sweetly stirring homage to fatherhood, I wanted him to adopt me. But the Primary Progressive EP makes me wonder if I should adopt him—or at least let him sleep on my sofa—so sharp is the emotional drop between the two records. Primary Progressive is as heart-wrenchingly sad as Devout was joyful, a record that takes the gurgling domestic contentment of the grime-adjacent producer’s last album and pulls the rug sharply from beneath it. And with good reason: Primary Progressive addresses Mitch’s father’s battle with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a form of the illness that Mitch calls “essentially the worst kind you can get.”

Miles Mitchell has long been one of the most idiosyncratic producers on the grime scene, producing cotton-candy “Peace Edits” while his contemporaries were pumping out irascible “war dubs” and bringing ambient elegance to grime on his brilliant 2014 album Parallel Memories. On Primary Progressive he continues to strike out on his singular path, addressing the raw despair and grinding powerlessness that accompany a debilitating disease that has no clear cause and no known cure.

Of the five tracks on this largely instrumental EP only one, “Show Me,” directly addresses his father’s disease. But a heavy sadness hangs over all the songs, seeping into the instrumental cracks like rain in a cold afternoon storm. “Settle” employs a sped-up vocal loop à la Burial, its isolation and repetition driving home the mournful message over a cushion of synths. Opener “Restart” is even more minimal, consisting of little more than minor synth chords and a rueful keyboard line that brings to mind Daft Punk’s “Something About Us” evaporating off into space.

While Primary Progressive’s subject matter might be new, the new-age synths and digital gloss aren’t far removed from Parallel Memories’ lush soundscapes. The big difference here is that Mitch has brought the drums back, giving them the kind of front-line role they haven’t enjoyed in his work since 2013’s “Viking.” “Restart” and “Show Me” borrow the 4/4 pulse of house, slowing its skip down to a stately stroll, while “Closure” and “Settle” could just about work on a slightly emotional dancefloor. The latter’s drums are particularly pronounced, the rhythm’s fierce house/dancehall snap suggesting defiance in the face of a terrible disease. The EP’s shift into post-genre UK bass is best exemplified by “Phantom Dance,” whose stuttering beat sits somewhere in between dembow strut and IDM scuttle, allied to a synth melody that suggests Selected Ambient Works Volume IIs and the Arab tone system. Clearly, we are no longer in grime territory.

“Show Me” is the obvious standout. Over a circular synth motif and descending bassline, Mitch quietly bares his soul, his caramel-soft vocal cradled in a subtle layer of Auto-Tune. It’s the intimacy of the song that gets me, as if Mitch were reciting a quiet prayer rather than singing for public consumption. At one point his voice even appears to crack, a sign that all the digital vocal trickery in the world can’t hold back the force of pure emotion.

This bravery is part of what makes Mr. Mitch such a special producer. It was brave to make peace when other producers were waging war; brave to devote an album to fatherhood; brave to make an EP about MS. Primary Progressive is a bold step forward.


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