Youthful contemplation from the British producer
The trials and tribulations that youth present have been explored in music countless times. Every once in awhile, an album becomes the calling card of a generation’s youth. Most recently, Frank Ocean’s Blonde has become a symbol of the constant state of flux and precariousness that plagues those who grew up in the 21st century. As far as potential candidates for the next era-defining album focused on youth, British producer Alex Crossan (AKA Mura Masa) would definitely not be out of the question. He’s proven himself to be capable of a wide array of musical styles and respectful genre-hopping. He constantly develops and expands upon a sound that most would consider youthful, and he remains in tune with artists like Charli XCX, A$AP Rocky and Stormzy that are defining the current state of youth right before our eyes. Unfortunately, Mura Masa’s R.Y.C. (Raw Youth Collage) falls short of the elusive era-defining project, primarily due to some issues with conceptual execution, but still manages to deliver some genuinely affecting and tender musical ideas while defining his own version of youth.
First of all, from front to back, the production is excellent on R.Y.C. Mura Masa shines in a few capacities across the project, but his production is by far the most consistently outstanding element of this album. He opens with some sparing guitar and bass interplay on the title track, but eventually introduces some electronics as he rattles off musings about moving on in a spoken-word delivery. The track concludes with a lyrical highlight of the project: “Do you ever wish you could forget the good times?/ at least then you wouldn’t feel the ache/ it’s the hottest day on Earth/ I just keep staring at that collage.” Track two, “No Hope Generation,” recalls the viral social media challenges that have become so prevalent in recent years. Crossan invents a challenge that he says is, “the new, hip sensation craze sweeping the nation.” Unfortunately, that challenge is really just overthought, paranoia, and hope for something different. He complements the strong ironic lyrical content with a more uptempo and very danceable production style. Next is the Clairo track, “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again.” Clairo delivers a passable feature in terms of vocals, but her lyrics lack the conceptual specificity that Crossan has managed quite well up to this point on the project. Platitudes like, “We’re missing out/ so young and we’re so full of doubt/ and I’ve been thinking of you in my room,” can be nice, but in this case, actually obstruct what is so great about this project. Fortunately, the Ned Green interlude that follows is a beautiful reminder of the real-life memories and moments that R.Y.C. illuminates.
“Deal Wiv It” then brings an entirely new energy to the album, courtesy of British rapper slowthai’s raw statements on personal growth, and more great guitar/bass interplay and distortion. The second half of the project takes a slight dip in quality, starting with “vicarious living anthem,” which should’ve been made up of much more than just a repetitive refrain. While tracks like “In My Mind,” “Today” and “Live Like We’re Dancing” all explore new sounds, include solid features, and maintain the high quality of production, they lack the strong thematic connective tissue that made the exploration of youth feel so fully realized on the first half. The penultimate track, “Teenage Headache Dreams,” is an incredibly well-produced meditation on the difficulty of capturing youthful energy that features the project’s best vocal performances. R.Y.C. concludes with “(nocturne for strings and a conversation).” The instrumental closer is a fantastic end to an album that is bound to dredge up many lost memories in the listeners and creates the perfect catalyst and backdrop for rewarding reflection on those memories.
Mura Masa’s version of youth is a demanding one. It’s one where you can assert your own convictions more aggressively than ever before, like slowthai on “Deal Wiv It,” or narrowly avoid crumbling under the pressure, like any of the three vocalists on “Teenage Headache Dreams.” It requires intense reflection, a keen sense of observation, and somehow, in the face of all the disaster that surrounds us, openness to everything that the world and our communities and loved ones have to offer. While this vision of youth comes through a bit hazy in places because of the aforementioned conceptual issues, Mura Masa still manages to create something quite special on R.Y.C. If Crossan can learn from this project and attempt another youth-focused concept album later in his career, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see it eventually become the monument to youth that this album wants to be. Of course, this is all up to the listeners, and we’ll see if Crossan’s work can still connect once today’s youth have become the grown-ups we’re all so scared to become.