Photo: Darcy Haylor / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

British Producer Mura Masa Gets Experimental and Nostalgic on ‘RYC’

Mura Masa's RYC turns towards nostalgia and ends up stunting the promise of his previous work, although it shows a willingness to experiment that proves the producer is still one to watch.

Mura Masa
17 January 2019

English musician VV Brown, who entered the decade as an indie singer-songwriter, soon after pivoted into heavily digitized avant-pop; the ominous “Lazarus” is a fantastic place to get acquainted. Likely because of this shift, Brown dropped off. Stories like Brown’s act as warnings to artists the world, who often resist shifting gears once they’ve found a lucrative lane. “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” is a much easier phrase to hear than “I prefer their earlier material.”

Producer and instrumentalist Alex Crossen, more fondly known as Mura Masa, decided the risk was worth it for album number two. RYC ( Rough Youth Collage) jumps from electronic elements, woodblocks, and steel drums to punk rock, guitar, and his voice.

Knowing Crossan’s early background playing metal and punk, RYC‘s punk sensibilities were somewhat expected, though previous songs hinted at this as well. It’s quite evident on Mura Masa‘s “Helpline” when the rapid drum intro leads into a prominent baseline. Then lite electro glitches arrive followed by the synths at a beautiful chorus, all of it a wondrous, 21st-century blend of genre. Such success makes the sophomore album feel that much more lackluster.

RYC utilizes the tricks of early 2000s alt-rock, like the Strokes’ signature vocal distortion, with modern alt sensibilities, think Atlas Genius’ “Trojans”. When you get down to it, it combines two musical trends, about ten years apart, and translates them into a whole new decade. Nostalgia, a driving force of this album, ironically stalls it out from hitting the stride of anything Mura Masa’s done previously. For an album with the word ‘raw’ in its title, it contains virtually nothing gritty and therefore is hard to take seriously.

A protest record always deserves to be heard, but its impact depends on the contents. The spoken word stumble from Slowthai on “Deal Wiv It” exudes both proper sentiment and attitude, disregarding tempo (order) in favor of fun. Conversely, “No Hope Generation” lacks either quality and resonates as a reach towards what Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” managed to achieve. Its BPM also drags, which you admittedly expect from a worn-out 20-something; “Show you how it’s done,” Crossan says, but without conviction.

Featured guest Clairo wears such weariness better on “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again”. Just after she says the titular statement, the cycle repeats as a pounding bass-heavy beat launches forward like a thrill ride at Cedar Point. Inexplicably, the song works, with Clairo holding her own against the track’s weight, and Crossan finding the right balance between indie rock and EDM. Another, stranger classic/contemporary combo is “Today”, where Americana meets the glitchy, repeated vocals found in earlier Mura Masa. Unfortunately, this meshing lends this song little coherence or memorability, thankfully something the next two have a little more of. “Live Like We’re Dancing” gives you pleasant mallrat pop, and Ellie Rowsell delivers the album’s finest vocals on the propulsive-then-laggy “Teenage Headache Dream”.

Ultimately, Crossan’s earlier work far outperforms RYC, but risks with genre definitely earn him brownie points for effort and reveal a musical sensibility worth watching. His prediction the year to be dominated by “guitars” and “punk” is likely correct, but he’s wrong if he’s implying that guitars are the only way to fight the man in 2020.

RATING 4 / 10