There’s a very fine line between music being inspired by other artists, and it simply being derivative. On MAALA’s debut album, it’s an idea that frequently nags at the listener. It’s impossible to say that he sounds like any one artist, but listening to any track from the album brings up a game of “spot-the-influence”. However, the songwriting and production on Composure are strong enough that the lack of originality isn’t necessarily as big of a problem as it otherwise could be.
The comparison that most immediately comes to mind in any of MAALA’s songs is Chet Faker. The equivalence isn’t so much in the sound of the music, but more in the uncanny similarity of the timbre of their voices. Tracks like Hush and Lose Your Love feature the same kind of bassy soulfulness that defines Faker’s work, and it’s easily MAALA’s biggest asset. The latter track also displays a versatile falsetto, which sounds vulnerable in a way that his usual tones can’t. Unfortunately, MAALA also has a penchant for filtering his voice with more typical pop processing, such as on Kind of Love. By all rights, the track should be excellent, with its catchy melody, and glittering synths, but the phasing and multi-tracking on MAALA’s vocals just render him as robotic, robbing him of any real personality.
The instrumentals draw from a more varied palette, for better or worse. The defining sound of the album is the James Blake-goes-pop sound embodied by artists like Jack Garratt. Composure and the aforementioned Lose Your Love are carried by waves of wheezing synths, which help to add a little edge to MAALA’s pop instincts. Breathe Out combines the minimalist pulse of recent Usher with chiming strings that could almost be from a Wild Beasts track. Stranger is a glossy, ridiculous 80’s pop track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. Let Me Know has a gloomy pop-rock atmosphere that sounds close to Twenty Øne Pilots. The soundscape is varied and largely unoriginal, but many of the sounds themselves are fairly captivating. It’s just unfortunate that there isn’t much of a specific sound to distinguish MAALA from his electropop peers.
Composure is ultimately a solid, if somewhat uninspiring pop album. It has some genuinely fantastic songs, like Lose Your Love, but also some tracks that overshoot the mark when aiming for mainstream appeal. It has a strong bass of electropop instrumentals, at the expense of anything resembling originality. Every strength of the album has a caveat to match, often within the individual songs themselves. Whilst MAALA is a strong songwriter, with a unique voice, when listening to Composure, it’s difficult to not simply wish to listen to his influences instead.