Most would associate the name ‘MJ Cole’ the with thriving surge of UK Garage in the early noughties. With indisputable classics like ‘Sincere’ and ’Crazy Love’, MJ Cole is a name so entrenched into the landscape of the genre that it would be reasonable to assume that he would never be able to escape it. However, 17 years after his last album, Matthew Coleman has made a triumphant return with ‘MJ Cole Presents: Madrugada’, and, despite his undeniable status as a garage heavyweight, has set aside his roots in favour of something entirely fresh.
‘Madrugada’, translating to ‘early morning’, is a rather fitting name for an album with such a peaceful and alleviating quality. “I've experienced a lot of early mornings, but having been up from the night before,” he explained as he describes an introspective drive across the Severn Bridge in the past. “For me, the early morning is a significant period.” Consisting of 12 tracks, the album takes us on an orchestrally performed journey that meanders between bold, confident strings and tranquil, unassuming piano riffs. The atmosphere of the album is simultaneously intimate and cinematic, with moments that make you look both inwards and outwards.
We begin with the haunting steady piano of ‘A Visit to Lolita’ which, like the album’s closing track ‘Resolution’, carries us through a melancholy yet strangely uplifting experience. Other artists that adopt a similar style such as Ludovico Einaudi spring to mind in these moments, when we are presented with almost harrowing piano melodies that are almost certain to raise goosebumps upon every listen.
For me, one of the highlights of the album comes in the form of 'Strings for Jodie'; a sensitively delivered instalment of gut wrenching strings and drifting keys that produce a meditative quality that really catches you by surprise. Following this, we are treated to ‘Reimagination’; a floaty ethereal number that features a level of electronic processing that perhaps don’t get to see elsewhere in the album.
MJ Cole hasn't abandoned his electronic roots altogether though, as hinted by the accompanying EP ‘Madruga- The Remixes’ released towards the end of March. Featuring tracks from Shanti Celeste, Max Cooper, Model Man, and even himself, this EP recontexualises the beauty of the album into dance music territory, producing an elegant amalgamation of classical prowess and electronic edge.
In an age where an album as a unified product seems to have less significance, 'MJ Cole Presents: Madrugada' is really one to absorb in one listen, start to finish. But, as we all find ourselves in the stretching timelessness of self isolation, what better time to delve into this LP and to give it your full undivided attention all the way through; a form of listening that we hope can make a strong return in this strange and uncertain time.