Moses Boyd – ‘Dark Matter’ review: dazzling jazz bangers built for the dancefloor

Moses Boyd’s ‘Dark Matter’ – his solo debut as a producer and band leader proper – draws on such a melting-pot of genres

It’s perhaps no wonder that Moses Boyd’s debut solo album draws on an eclectic range of influences. Growing up in Catford, south London, Boyd’s music-loving family played everything from gospel, soul and funk to experimental, rock and reggae. On any given day, Boyd said it was normal to hear Björk, Debussy, N.E.R.D., Tupac, Nas and Youssou N’Dour in his childhood home. At school, meanwhile, Boyd was already swapping beats with his grime-loving classmates in his first year and later, after taking up drums aged 13, Boyd discovered jazz and was soon studying videos of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins.

Boyd recently said it was N.E.R.D.’s ‘Fly or Die’ that left the greatest mark on him at that time. The album was largely judged to be an anomaly by critics in 2004 who didn’t understand how Pharrell and co would dare to position jazz alongside funk, rock, R&B and hip-hop. In 2020, however, that kind of cross-pollination is par for the course.

Boyd’s ‘Dark Matter’ – his solo debut as a producer and band leader proper – draws on such a melting-pot of genres and styles where complex jazz rhythms sit alongside electronica, dance, rock, grime and pop. Whilst its head leans towards the mathematical with its polymath rhythms and intricate structures, its heart is firmly on the dancefloor – much like his 2016 breakout, ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’ which saw Boyd collaborate with Four Tet and Floating Points.

Moses Boyd
Moses Boyd at the jazz Cafe in London. Credit: Getty

Opener ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ gently twinkles into life before the rich tuba of Sons of Kemet’s Theon Cross transforms it into an infectious rump-shaking instrumental. Add in the skittish drums of Boyd with the frenetic synths of Erza Collective’s Joe Armon-Jones and the track becomes one of the most danceable on the record. ‘2 Far Gone’ is made in a similar vein, where Boyd’s breathless drumming drives the track alongside up-tempo, arpeggiated keys from Armon-Jones to create something with a ‘Kid A’ sentiment.

The style carries through on album standout ‘Only You’ which channels the darker dance styles of the London Underground alongside a woozy Afrobeat underscore. Elsewhere, there’s a much heavier Afrobeat leaning thanks to the fact that the album began life, by accident, in South Africa. Boyd was there to make an album with Klein, Nonku Phiri, Ribane and DJ Lag but ended up travelling around the homes of local artists, recording snatches of rhythms and sound samples when he could. “South Africa is a buzzing, rich musical place,” Boyd said of his travels. “When I got back to London, I found it had changed my way of thinking,” he later added. The endlessly upbeat ‘BTB’ and ‘Y.O.Y.O’ show how the country influenced Boyd and of the way the artist can collage a multitude of genres naturally.

Following on from his acclaimed project, ‘Displaced Diaspora’ there are exciting collaborations on ‘Dark Matter’ too, not least with NME 100 alumni Poppy Ajudha on the album’s standout pop banger, ‘Shades of You’. Another comes via Obongjayar on the album’s fierce political moment, ‘Dancing in the Dark’. “The world is changing / The rules are not the same / Why my brothers so afraid / Why my brothers full of hate,” Obongjayar mournfully sings on a track exploring racism and otherness post-Brexit.

Whilst jazz and dance are at the forefront of this album’s heart, you can trace a multitude of other genres under its surface, from grime to rock and funk to pop. It’s an ambitious work full of scope, where Boyd continues to innovate and impress.

Release date: February 14

Record label: Exodus