Mura Masa has shown on both of his albums that he has a knack for collaboration.
It took 17 days into the new decade to get the first album that feels like a 2020 release—the second album from Mura Masa, R.Y.C., standing for Raw Youth Collage, captures a certain nostalgia and anxiety that feels true to the experience of Gen Z: a group, myself included, romantically reminiscing on Twitter over the particular culture of their childhood all the while living nervously in the seemingly always less stable current moment. And while the 23-year old producer’s commentaries on what it’s like to live as a young person today come through, unfortunately, R.Y.C. is less of a dynamic, energetic exploration of youth culture as it is a mostly banal record coated in a heavy, pale malaise that not even the most exciting of the artists featured on this record can cumulatively lift.
An immediate departure in production from Mura Masa’s 2017 debut is apparent as soon as the record begins, turning away from the diverse set of house and electro-pop in favor of mostly guitar and bass-driven, rocky production. After the titular opening track introduces Mura Masa’s new musical approach, I couldn’t help but anticipate the sound of Thurston Moore’s voice pondering the survival of youth culture—the audio clip can be heard in the opening moments of The Radio Dept.’s 2010 song, “Heaven’s on Fire”—leading into a bouncy, pop track brimming with energy. While “Raw Youth Collage” does conjure feelings of Clinging to a Scheme’s opener “Domestic Scene,” R.Y.C.’s second track fails to leave a similar impact as “Heaven’s on Fire.” Instead, the album dives head-first into the first of its plain re-interpretations of the early aughts.
The riffs that lead “No Hope Generation” and “Vicarious Living Anthem” are clearly in homage to pop-punk acts of the era such as Sum 41 and Blink-182. These tracks fail to inspire anything more than a few head bobs and a reminder of some of the rock music that Mura Masa and his crew of mostly young, 20-something collaborators must have a great deal of sentimentality for. Along with these, too many other songs on R.Y.C. feel like they’re reaching for something, whether it be an undeniable groove or a contemplative tone, and never quite grasp it, leaving an apathetic feeling towards the music.
That said, there are a few highlights on R.Y.C.. They are mostly in thanks to some captivating guest features, which is not too dissimilar to Mura Masa’s debut, featuring a litany of some of pop music’s most exciting voices. “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again” takes full advantage of Clairo’s ever-growing confidence as a singer and uses the more emotional aspects of her voice to lend a sweetness to the softer opening moments of the track as well as poignancy to the explosive, dancy chorus. “Teenage Headache Dreams” takes a similar approach, using the album’s most impressive vocal performance from Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell to make for a genuinely powerful penultimate moment.
“Deal Wiv It” is the album’s highest peak, partially because there is an exuberance and vitality present that simply doesn’t quite make it to the rest of the record; however, as much as it is the clear showstopper of R.Y.C.—the duo of Slowthai and Mura Masa reigniting the special fire that helped summon one of 2019’s best songs, “Doorman”—it also feels a bit just like the most exciting Gorillaz song to be released in years.
It’s clear that Mura Masa’s intention on R.Y.C is to make something that speaks to a particular generational experience and unease, but other albums that similarly approach this era through some diverse and nostalgic musical influences like The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships for example, while not a one-to-one comparison, feels like a more successful, grander version of many of the ideas presented on R.Y.C.. Mura Masa has shown on both of his albums that he has a knack for collaboration, one can hope that on his next album he can better balance that talent with his message.