ALBUM REVIEW: Porter Robinson, Nuture
To say that Nurture is Porter Robinson’s best work is a massive understatement. Like fellow electronic artist Flume, he has seen fit to reconcile his own specific tastes with the expected festival fare his fans are counting on him for. In other words, he makes his own musical sensibilities cool. In this case, they align with this new wave of love of all things Japanese. Listening to this album is like walking through an expansive flower garden with a clear view of Mt. Fuji, it’s like Animal Crossing-EDM. The album opens with some sounds that become major players on the project, that is violin, piano, nature sounds and this general sense that sunlight is shining through an open window, making the environment warmer and more cozy.
The two following tracks, singles for the album, infuse the sounds of Electric Daisy Carnival with the soundtracks of Studio Ghibli films. With it’s ascending piano lines, “Look at the Sky” is a hopeful ballad that feels like a journey. “Look at the sky it’s still here, I’ll be around next year, I can make something good”, Porter sings on the chorus with the help of a J-pop adjacent violin. This song and the following “Get Your Wish” featuring vocals from the man himself, pitch-shifted, convincingly, at parts to sound like a female counterpart. This truly sounds like a man using only his own powers, vocally and production-wise, to craft fully formed and beautiful songs that he envisions in his head. Sure, the entire track is a bit corny, but for this genre it stands out having real human emotion, a quality that often gets lost somewhere in the mix. “Get Your Wish” is reminiscent of both Nujabees and power pop anime openings, the way he’s able to combine the two with chamber instrumentation in one concise song is something to behold, the vocals on this one especially make me wonder how this is Robinson singing.
Like Flume but not quite as adept and sure of himself, he tries his hand at some experimental, structureless jams. “Wind Tempos” and “dull scythe” are two of the main ones, the former of which is a 6-minute piano and violin odyssey that really feels like being led by the hand through a countryside landscape with expansive field and temples, interspersed with some odd vocals from Amy Allen. There are some sleepy cuts in the mix that teter between heartfelt and snore-inducing, like “Sweet Time” and “Trying To Feel Alive”, but on that same token we get some absolute bangers, let me just go top to bottom on those. “Musician” is by far my favorite song, it’s intro is a dead-ringer for “One More Time”, but the rest of the song’s lyrics about being nostalgic make sense considering how tied to the 2010s indietronic scene this beat is (think Passion Pit and the like). With an amazing and computerized vocal performance from Sara Bonito of Kero Kero Bonito, this is one of the sweetest and most well-written pop tracks of this year and of the decade so far. “Mirror” is another well-done single, it heavily relies on the building of a happy atmosphere and well-placed piano chords. “Something Comforting” fits in organically with the sonic themes of the record, but I’m greatly surprised with how quickly it devolves (in a good way) to a simpler EDM sound. It’s all in the songwriting and the DROP. Goddamn is this drop excellent, don’t miss this one. The last of the more hard hitting tracks is “Unfold” with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs which would’ve been a fitting closer.
This album is essential listening in vibe, sound, volume of quality tracks and level of risk pay-off, which is high. While there are some experiments that go too far and some lamer tracks that don’t go far enough, the sound of this record feels unique to the American music landscape. Yes, the soundtracks of Studio Ghibli films and Japanese city pop already did a lot of this in a much more compelling fashion. Maybe you’d be tempted to call Robinson a weeb for his work here, but that's really short-changing the level of dedication he gave to the project. After all, many great electronic musicians like Daft Punk have mined the country’s sound and aesthetic to great effect in the past. I think he does it justice and puts together an album that has just the right amount of personality, fun and crystal clear production to stand out as being something special.