Mura Masa’s second album presents two prevailing approaches to making sense of the world. The first arrives on the album’s lead single ‘I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again’, a team-up with DIY hero Clairo. Before the big Basement Jaxx-sized breakdown in the song’s chorus, and after the US singer remembers the grass on the other side being “so much softer, longer, sweeter, cleaner than this”, she sighs through robotic vocals: “I don’t think I can do this again”. It’s about a relationship going down the pan, but also summarises our general apathy and appetite for nihilism in response to the world’s sorry state.
The second, as found on the enormous ‘Deal Wiv It’, suggests grabbing life by the scruff of the neck and giving it a boot up the arse. On the bouncing, hilarious, Stranglers-inspired anthem, Northampton rapper Slowthai lets you know how he really feels about modern Britain. He moans that his mates on the estate are telling him he’s changed, and that you can’t get a pint for £3 anymore because of gentrification. His answer? Deal wiv it, mate.
Mura Masa – real name Alex Crossan – doesn’t settle on a single approach across ‘R.Y.C.’ (short for Raw Youth Collage) – and therein lies the album’s strength. The British producer’s second album is a scrapbook of confusion, anxiety and nostalgia that provides no clear answers – apathy or humour, pick your poison – but remains an authentic and relatable listen through to its honesty.
It’s authenticity to himself – and to listeners – that has led one of Britain’s most promising dance producers to release a punk album. “If you’re smart right now, you’re making guitar music,” Crossan told NME in a recent chat. “I feel like people are now praying for some authenticity and some human touch to music. There’s no simpler outlet to that than guitar and piano.”
It may be the most direct route to his listeners and to his past – his childhood in Guernsey saw him perform in metal and rock bands – but it’s a potentially treacherous path. His 2017 self-titled debut was a spritely, summery listen to which guests such as A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens and Damon Albarn leant their gravitas and vocals. It landed him sell-out shows, killer festival sets and even a Grammy nod. As debut albums go, it was a decent start.
The gamble – to lightly brush the reset button – has paid off. The 23-year-old has already proved that he’s just as dextrous with a guitar as he is with beats (see his production on Slowthai’s thunderous 2018 single ‘Doorman’) and ‘R.Y.C’ is a similarly bruising affair. Several tracks feature Crossnan on lead vocals; he embraces the character and imperfections in his own voice, resulting in these tracks’ intensity and energy surely.
There’s punk fury on the pained ‘No Hope Generation’ and ‘Vicarious Living Anthem’, with the former treading the line between genuine pain and meme-ficiation of modern hopelessness: “Everybody do the no-hope-generation / The new hip sensation craze sweeping the nation.” On ‘I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again’, he samples Television’s spindly riff ‘1880 Or So’, twisting it into a sturdy framework, while the explosion of blown-out psychedelia on ‘Teenage Headache Dreams’ shows remarkable progression for a producer quickly becoming master of all trades.
Danceheads and fans from first time round will still find much to enjoy. The album’s second half acts as a bridge between old and new, like the trippy nod to his glitchy beginnings ‘In My Mind’ and French-house-inspired ‘Live Like We’re Dancing’. Whichever path or sound Crossan takes on ‘R.Y.C’, this is far from a scattershot passion project. Inspired by his formative experiences in Guernsey and the power of nostalgia, Crossan has excelled in teasing from his collaborators stories and performances that complement his own.
Take ‘In My Mind’, a track inspired by Crossan’s observations of the rave scene in the ‘00s; it’s something he could only experience through mixes, books and videos from that time. It’s entirely possible of course that said raves were never actually that good, or have been misremembered or embellished by the people who were there, but the producer takes an entirely romantic view: “I try to grab onto something / Put my feet on the ground / But when I’m pulled to that place, oh man / It feels so good”. The album’s biggest party moment ‘Live Like We’re Dancing’, meanwhile, is built around its four-letter motto for freedom; new-gen pop-dance star Georgia, who co-wrote the track, shares an essential sense of optimism with Mura Masa.
‘R.Y.C’ is at its most provocative and memorable when its larger-than-life characters and productions become unhinged and combustible with lust for life. Yet Mura Masa’s anxious contemplation of modern-living – the highs, the lows, the lies we tell ourselves to make it all better – hits just as hard.
Release date: January 17
Record label: Polydor, Anchor Point