When RL Grime (real name Henry Alfred Steinway) released his previous album ‘VOID’ four years ago, trap music had climbed to the top of the hill and was enjoying its heyday.
Since then it has suffered a rapid decline after being exploited and bastardised to the point where Glaswegian trap lord Hudson Mohawke himself has disregarded it. Back in 2015 he told Pitchfork that his TNGHT project with Lunice was never supposed to spawn “this crazy EDM festival shit.”
‘VOID’ was a record which just about toed the line between explosive trap and comedic festival crowd pleasers, but it also showcased Steinway’s versatility for other sounds from occasional D&B licks to bass-heavy, sample-ridden rumblers. Its consistent theme, however, was its pull towards dance music’s darker end of the spectrum.
‘NOVA’ is the complete antithesis to this – for better or worse, and occasionally both. Opener ‘Feel Free’ has the breezy percussion of ‘Black Sands’-era Bonobo but the subaquatic hyper-pitched vocals of a MssingNo track and the result is as hypnotising as it is unexpected – for the first minute at least until it descends into bottom end absurdity before scaling it back again.
The most notable aspect of ‘NOVA’ is the abundance of high profile guest spots including Ty Dolla $ign, Miguel, Tory Lanez and more. Despite these weighty names, it’s ‘Shrine’ with Freya Ridings that stands out as her rich vocals hit home over a splashy sugar-coated melody reminiscent of a Sub Focus number from about eight years ago. It might not be cutting edge, but it’s sure to garner a reaction in the clubs this record is tailored towards.
At a lengthy 55-minutes long and with few nods to subtlety, ‘NOVA’ can feel like an overbearing assault on the senses, but it finds its sweet spots when the guest features are dropped and Steinway’s ear for production takes the spotlight. ‘Shoulda’ is a bleary-eyed Knight Rider on Prozac banger that burns through its three-minute run time relentlessly while the strings of ‘Run For Your Life (interlude)’ are a lucid day-dream soundscape that provides necessary respite.
In many ways the first track on the album is the perfect embodiment of everything else on the record – enchanting, hypnotic, melodic, amped-up – but ultimately too concerned with doing too much within one song. It’s something that ‘VOID’ suffered with and it’s apparent once again on ‘NOVA’. RL Grime seemingly wants to keep everyone happy and while that approach will almost certainly find success in the clubs or the fields of Coachella it often hinders rather than helps his studio efforts.
Words: Matthew Cooper
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