Young, Wild and Free
Some weeks before the release of Mowgli, 20-year-old Nick Zanca appeared to have a sort of minor freakout over social media, pre-emptively decrying criticism of the record before anyone even had the chance to listen. Fraught with a volatile mix of insecurity and an upstart’s elevated pride, the since-deleted note seemed a natural side-effect of his accelerated case of growing up in public. After all, a little more than a year ago, the college student / bedroom producer dubbed Mister Lies was hardly a blip on the radar. Yet some promotional outreach to blogger Tyler Andere fortuitously snowballed rapidly – and some might say virally – into two separate “Best New Track” designations by Pitchfork writer Larry Fitzmaurice. It’s little wonder that Zanca had some anxiety and emotion to express as the music slipped from his hands into the clogged inboxes of a notably fickle music press.
He needn’t have worried. Mowgli is an unexpectedly mature, genre-slashing work from a natural-born talent. Composed largely in isolation at his family’s Vermont lake house, these eight cuts just barely scrape the 40-minute mark, such purposeful succinctness a welcome contrast to the glut of producers cluelessly throwing the contents of their entire hard drive at a full-length and hoping for the best. Though potentially worth lumping in with modern R&B mutants like How to Dress Well, the Mister Lies project skirts categorization, much like the brightest bits of the Rephlex and Skam discographies. And while the very notion of IDM has fallen out of favor in this Age of Skrillex and blog-friendly taggable micro-classification, a leftfield record as smart and plausibly personal as Mowgli should be hailed as a panacea instead of a mere curiosity.
A single run-through simply won’t do, nor will a headphone commute or two. The intimacy of Mister Lies’ tracks has a tendency to lull a listener into submission, the subtleties and coiling undertones far too easy to overlook. Superficially, “Align” sounds like a sumptuous radio edit of a mid-’00s Kompakt 12”, yet this wriggling tech house caterpillar slowly metamorphoses with isolated echo chamber ghosts, melodious bright spots, and a barely tamed synth loop. In less than four minutes, Zanca’s done more than most producers would with the same toolbox.
Despite the quintessentially pastoral setting in which it was created, Mowgli remains an inherently urban outing. Like a chopped and screwed take on two-step garage, lead single “Dionysian” emits both dubwise Kode9-esque vibes and triumphant Chicago house textures in the service of its transfixing vocal sample. The best beat crooner Miguel has yet to sing over, “Ludlow” haunts the bedroom with an epic creep, while the resplendent Lite FM soul of “Trustfalls” marks the record’s topmost peak when smooth jazz horns and whirling warm pads seep through the Quiet Storm fog like shards of stubborn moonlight. A collaboration with Exitmusic, atmospheric emo moaner “Hounded” is a trip-hop mindmeld that simultaneously feels Bristol retro and contemporary.
Like Vermont resident Rudyard Kipling’s feral jungle boy that gives Mowgli its title, the possibilities and perils for Mister Lies beyond the electronic niche seem wide. With major label artists like Drake and the Weeknd infusing the Billboard charts with levity and solemnity, a producer that can capitalize on that might invite plenty of eager would-be partners, cash in hand. But for now, Zanca ought to bask in this moment, since it is undeniably his.
- Multiple songs Soundcloud