Mango X Mathman have built a solid reputation over the last few years with high energy, electric live performances and a series of exciting singles. Their 2017 EP, Wheel Up saw a melding of grime influences with a distinctly Dublin aesthetic, making for a promising glimpse into a hype act with heaps of potential. Throughout that time, the duo, consisting of Karl ‘Mango’ Mangan on vocals and Adam ‘Mathman’ Fogarty on production, have been working towards their debut album – a full-length piece shouldering the responsibility of justifying the hype.
The Dublin duo’s debut album Casual Work is an anti-establishment narrative piece on life as the everyman. Mango’s distinct spitfire flow regals us with 15 tracks of in-depth storytelling charting the highs and lows of unemployment, mental health, governmental inadequacies and the unbearable hopelessness of being young and alive in Ireland today.
Casual Work was built over a four year period and that time and dedication have resulted in a deeply confident album with an eye for detail where decisions feels deliberate and essential. Casual Work marks a major departure from the party anthems and fun bops of Mango X Mathman’s career hitherto and establishes them as a musical force to be reckoned with.
Instantly, Casual Work draws parallels with For Those I Love’s self-titled release earlier this year. Both albums are lyrically propelled assessments of Dublin life set to electronic-influenced production. However while For Those I Love pursued a more nostalgic vision of Dublin, Casual Work is steeped in urgency and fury. This lyrical urgency lends Casual Work a cultural impact and resonance that feels vital.
Opening spoken word track ‘Bread & Butter’ is a brutal take on what it means to exist in Ireland right now. It sets a tone of frustration and helplessness in the face of a changing culture that prioritises corporate interests over human necessities and echoes the very real sentiment of a “lost generation” screaming for humanising recognition when they’re treated as marketing demographics.
Contextually, Casual Work is unmistakably an album written for and about Dublin but has universal thematic resonance. For each specific reference, there’s a ubiquitous sense of what it means to be a young person in 2019. Anyone can relate to feeling suffocated by the daily commute and the unrelenting cycle of tapping on and off buses or watching yet another Starbucks opening up even when the duo detail it as part of their personal experiences. The strength of Casual Work’s lyricism ensures that its specificities are never a barrier, only a detailed insight into a lived experience.
Alongside the despondency, ‘Any Other Place’ injects the release with a moment of escapism – a charming jolt of nostalgic fun that focuses on unending summers chilling out and drinking with friends whilst ‘Mad Ting’ serves up a braggadocious grime stormer that anyone could throw down to. Casual Work never gets weighed down or disrupted by its heavy themes due to an ability to always find a spark of light in the mundane.
Elsewhere, the duo develops their melodic songwriting chops. Lead single ‘Deep Blue’, featuring vocals from Lisa Hannigan with strings by Crash Ensemble, steps away from unrelenting flows towards a more blatantly emotive and conventionally infectious direction. It’s a charming cut that offers an insight into what a more established, radio-friendly Irish hip-hop scene could sound like. Loah’s two appearances on the release also elucidate this direction – both ‘Memories’ and ‘Lonely Night’ contrast Mango’s rugged timbre with Loah’s soulful vocals resulting in more accessible, pop-leaning output. This particularly works like a charm on the former with ‘Memories’ infectious chorus and bittersweet emotion making it a stand out cut.
Whilst it’s easy to focus on the depth of Mango’s performance, at the heart of Casual Work is an excellent production turn from Mathman. Opting to avoid the dominant trap ‘type’ beats plaguing hip-hop right now, Mathman’s palette ranges from the sultry R&B synths of ‘Casual’ to the nostalgic garage of closer ‘Said & Done’ and ‘Memories’ ambient inspired IDM.
Inarguably, Casual Work is most heavily influenced by grime but throughout the release, Mathman switches between styles with ease. Despite the variety, the production remains cohesive – key common atmospheric elements and pervasive melancholia ensures a holistic listening experience. At times the productions could benefit from being granted more breathing space – song ingredients are introduced so quickly and simultaneously in a way the occasionally results in elements being lost in the mix. This could be improved upon with a longer running time that allows more opportunity for the production to take the lead.
Casual Work’s victory lies in its provision of a solution to the issues that plague it. The generational alienation and voicelessness that feeds the struggles illustrated on ‘Lord Hear Us’ are mitigated with a refrain of “they said there’s no hope for us / we hope there’s hope for us”. This counteraction is maintained throughout the album and places Mango X Mathman as spokespeople of the lost youth they write about.
Giving a voice to the everyday struggle, Casual Work challenges the status quo and serves a roaring battle cry against capitalism and class-based oppression through the accessible and representative platform of storytelling. So often, politics is discussed in isolation, like a theoretical idea that exists only in a vacuum for those in power with little attention paid to how decisions negatively impact the regular person that doesn’t have a platform for resistance. Casual Work flips that script by showing how the political is inherently personal.
Endless takes have been shared in recent times about the expansion and direction of Irish hip-hop but Casual Work sets a high bar for current projects. Mango X Mathman have positioned themselves as an act with something to say and a whole lot of substance behind them.
Casual Work has a distinct vision and the Dublin duo has carried out that outlook through a willingness to explore and push the genre in new directions. If someone’s making a time capsule any time soon, they should make sure to leave a copy of Casual Work in there because Mango X Mathman have built a chillingly accurate encapsulation of Ireland right now.
Listen to Casual Work in full below.