Tom Misch’s ‘Quarantine Sessions’ is intimate guitar-driven relaxant

photo of new album Quarantine Sessions
Beyond The Groove /Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0 

Tom Misch’s sound doesn’t fit into one genre — the English musician and producer transcend the stereotypical beats and bops of electronic-dance music, infusing concepts of house with jazzy guitar melodies to form something entirely custom.

Earlier releases of the English musician reflect this: “Disco Yes” and “South of the River” on Geography is no doubt some of Misch’s best work. Its delicate electric sound is playful and made for dancing the night away, but steers clear from the loud in-your-face Calvin Harris energy of nightclubs and bottle service. In doing so, Misch has crafted a niche fanbase of “in-betweeners,” those who find sanctity in his unique blend of house, dance and jazzy alternative.

Quarantine Sessions, Misch’s latest release, is an eight-track album of mostly instrumental jam sessions, boasting three originals and a diverse assortment of covers ranging from Solange to Nirvana. These began as YouTube videos Misch posted of himself during stay-at-home orders and became a full-blown project after they were met with a frenzy of positive feedback. “Listening to this during lockdown in New Zealand. Strange times in the world. This calms my anxiety — Thank you,” goes one particularly lovely comment on one of the videos, more evidence of the reach of Misch’s therapeutic tunes.

Calming is undoubtedly the best way to describe Quarantine Sessions, which is smooth and satisfying to the point where its alternate title could just as aptly be Musical Tonic. The album is a delightful listen where Misch’s talents as a musician go beyond the work he has produced in the past, pulling from genres outside the realm of R&B guitar. Even though the album is a melting pot of artists and genres, Misch is incredibly good at incorporating his personal flair that makes the covers on the album feel eccentric yet familiar. Quarantine Sessions is an illustration of an artist able to hone his craft even without expensive production, staying consistent with his sound that fans love.

The album begins with “Chain Reaction,” a Misch original. The track is calming and has a comforting aura to it that matches its composition as a silky smooth instrumental. Misch’s skills as a guitarist are on full display, as his instrument takes the listener through a largely ambient listening experience. It’s an odyssey of an introduction, laying the framework for Misch to be creative and experimental within the boundaries of his distinct sound.

One such experiment is Misch’s journey into the orchestral. “For Carol,” another one of the original tracks featured on the album, features violinist Tobie Tripp, whose crescendoing strings form the foundation of the melody. The combination of dainty violin alongside Misch’s buttery electric guitar efforts is exquisite; “For Carol” feels like it was tailor-made for a closing scene in a movie. It is telling of Misch’s dimension as an artist, one whose guitar can take a back seat to spotlight Tripp’s dreamy sound while still feeling relatively uniform.

One artist covering another could potentially be a letdown in not being able to live up to the expectations of the original — especially when covering big names such as Nirvana. But Misch thrives in this space. It is clear on cuts such as “The Wilhelm Scream,” a James Blake cover, that he is meticulous to get the notes right and pay homage to its creator while curating a mood of his own. Misch’s cover of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” is detailed, sounds uncanny to the original and illuminates the melodic grace of an instrumental that is normally overshadowed by Solange’s overflowing vocals.

On “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” he pulls off a similar accomplishment, breaking down the track’s grunge-rock exterior to achieve a calmer, self-soothing listening experience. Covers such as these can be overwhelming in their attempt to catch the lyrics, vocals and their overall aura. But Misch doesn’t try to outshine the original and adds depth by cutting them down into smooth jazzy renditions that make for any time listening, rather than for a certain mood or feeling.

Unlike the tumultuous year behind its conception, Tom Misch’s Quarantine Sessions is a comfortable experience. Above all else, it is soothing — healing even, transforming the familiar into something that feels more universal and new.

Contact Kaitlin Clapinski at [email protected].