Okay, we’re rolling again.
A short disclaimer before we begin: this review is biased. The same is true of every review by every reviewer, but this one more so than others. When we, as viewers, interpret a piece of art, we all do so with a weight around our shoulders. That weight is made of our expectations and the expectations imposed on us, whether by our culture, our past, or even just our mood. That weight tints the art that we interpret and in the interest of fairness, and only if you’ll allow me, I’d like to take a moment to inventory the weight on my shoulders.
I have spent the last 365 days of my life living with my parents on a gap year from college. I haven’t been doing nothing. My weekly therapy sessions are more than good enough work on the bad weeks, and they’re an excuse on the good ones. But without a driver’s license, much less a car or the mid-pandemic safety to travel, I spend a lot of time on my PC browsing social media. That is to say that I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year being alive, but not a lot of time living.
Nurture is a 2021 pop / EDM album from Porter Robinson, the follow-up to his 2014 debut, the EDM-changing, bloated butterfly of an album titled Worlds. Nurture is a completely different beast. Where World‘s harsh yet tender EDM looks out, nurture looks in, layering ambience, purposefully-messily-recorded piano and synth orchestra, underneath the bittersweet, complex songwriting that has become Robinson’s post- “Shelter” claim to fame. More specifically, Nurture is about Robinson’s seven-year post- Worlds creative rut, which is an amount of time that would make anyone believe they could never be an artist again, an emotion that is most clearly reflected on the records six pre-release singles.
The singles are universally bombastic, achingly yearning yet energetic pieces that effortlessly blend modern future-based sensibilities and production with pop songwriting and a cavalcade of textured sound. The result is wholly original, tender yet experimental pop tracks that cry in the club for the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the kind of music that covers my shoes in dandelion pollen and breaks an aglet on my hoodie during my second full album listen. And if you just listened to those masterful singles, you might get the impression that they will constitute the album. The arc is easy to surmise. Just build yearning over the course of an hour and have it turned into catharsis about a minute and a half into the final track.
But Robinson breaks from that story less than a third of the way through the record. The first single non-intro song on Nurture is “Wind Tempos”, which runs away from recognizable rhythm or pattern into the warm arms of experimentation. It, and later song “dullscythe”, both explicitly feel improvised. The idea is that they embody in structure what most of the record only speaks about lyrically. They are songs that themselves yearn to grow into the proper songs that are on the rest of the record. And their intensely high BPMs also have the intended side effect of slowing down the album’s following fast-paced tracks by comparison.
Nurture then is not a capture of longing. It’s an album about mulling things over. The problem with this is in effect, not in intent. The album is thereby burdened with this annoyingly slow middle half comprised of less emotionally powerful house and experimental leaning songs like “Mother” or “do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do” that ultimately ended up taking some power from some powerful later placed singles, like the standout “Something Comforting”, within the greater context of the full piece. It’s an unfortunate detriment on what could have been a thinner, more emotionally impacting record. And then there’s the way the album ends.
“Trying to Feel Alive”, Nurture’s final track, is lyrically frustrating and leaves listeners on a thematically unresolved note. Instead of Robinson breaking free from the creative frustrations that he has spent seven years living through and almost a full hour singing about, he chooses to end the album by calling that frustration a gift.
And that’s bullshit, right? I mean, it’s kind of tiring, privileged take that can only be said by musicians who already have 2 million Spotify plays a month and don’t have to worry about making art for the rest of their lives.
Am I just being told to gratefully accept that this existential fear that is currently dogging me, that is shat—
And, you know, it’s also really thematically annoying that this album spends so long yearning, and it just slips into this suffering artist cliché—
Porter has— he has to reach the end of his journey so that I can reach the end of mine. I refuse to accept that the future, the tunnel is totally dark. Please God. Please just get me some—
I’ve realized over the last few days that no matter how much I project myself onto a piece, that I will not be able to fundamentally change its shape. Nurture was not made for me. It was made for Porter Robinson. And I will not be able to find the personal piece from merely reading a text that he has seemingly found from writing it.
Art on its own will not save you. Only by interpreting the work and letting it shape us can it save us. And even then, that’s tricky. It’s impossible for Nurture to live up to its singles because each of them was exactly the song I needed at the point in my life in which it was released. And I don’t know if that means the songs are going to age poorly, but if that happens, that will be because the weight around my shoulders has changed, not the lyrical or auditory quality of the songs themselves.
I don’t have a clean way to end this review–if that’s what you’d call it–and I’m not going to pretend that I do. If you’re interested in listening to this album, listen to the single “Mirror”. And if you like its pace and emotion—YouTube self-help sample and all—you will not be disappointed by the rest of the record. But if the sound interests you and not necessarily the pace and emotion of it, be sure to give the rest of the singles on the album a shot, and I’m not sure if you’d like the rest of the record itself.
Nurture will probably be the record I listened to most this year, as I hopefully yearn my way back into something resembling normalcy. And it has at least made me cry more than anything else released so far this year. So, it does have that going for it.
Okay. Yeah, I’m going to call that good enough. I am going to go and try and feel alive some more. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next year.
That was the take. That was the take. We got it. — Quint Iverson