RL Grime: NOVA | Album Review
By Andrew Ring
RL Grime (Henry Steinway) returns with the follow up to 2014’s Void with a release that is cluttered, lacking substance and largely forgettable. With collaberations with artists like Miguel, Chief Keef, Ty Dolla Sign and Joji, I was really expecting some exploration and creativity with this album.
Upon finding out that Steinway was suffering from depression, anxiety and motivational issues from 2015, I looked at this album in a very different light. The tracks reflect on the feelings from melancholy but aim to inspire a sense of hope, which I really respect from RL Grime.
Feel Free: Talk about leaving an impression with the opening track, because this does it alright! The first minute sounds promising enough but its all downhill from there as perhaps the years most irritating drop rears its ugly head. I stuck it out the whole way on my first full album listen through and am still regretting it to this day.
Shrine: Redemption!! If the first track was the bottom of the pile then Shrine is very much on top (or near enough). Not only is it a brilliant song, but it sounds more like Chase and Status than most of Chase and Status’ songs do. Freya Ridings on vocals really sets this song well above the rest, showing that RL’s reinvention wasn’t totally lost.
Light Me Up: Thus begins the run of skip-able songs. While Miguel provides the obvious artist starpower it is Julia Michaels that almost salvages this track from being anything other benign. Sadly it doesn’t really happen, while its not bad its just not really good either.
Undo: Really resisting making an undo pun about the song itself here. Ill qualify my opinion by saying this music has never really been my type but even then I’d like to hope I can somewhat recognise when a song is good, which this one is not.
Take it Away: The drop isn’t too bad, the lyrics however are below average. (How many times do I have to hear take it away, or what I presume is a more coherent version of mumble rap).
OMG: One of the most commercial sounding songs on the album that I just haven’t been able to warm to one bit. It is fairly jarring production behind the rapping of Chief Keef & Joji, large no from me here.
Shoulda: Quasi interlude here that comes across more like Zeds Dead than anything else. It’s a pleasing listen that is then mixed in to Reims. Call me pedantic but I really dislike when the effort is put in to create what should be a seamless transition between songs but falls short, as it has done here. It is only marginally out but is noticeable.
Reims: This really does sound like an expended, more technically complex version of aurora in a number of ways. That flickering wavy synth at the beginning is with you throughout. Add some more gospel-esque backing and a kick of trademark drums and you are the closest you will be to musical solitude. The drop is as many of the songs on this album are for me, a real let down. We have had this song for a while now and I still can’t help thinking what it would be like with something different, and less irritating. Its alright, but doesn’t stretch beyond that.
Pressure: Originally rumoured to be a collab with Boys Noize this song has featured in Steinways shows on and off for a very long time. It was released properly just prior to the albums arrival to the delight of many a diehard fan. The released version is a slight change from the song that first blew my socks off in one of RL’s old Halloween mix’s, but the effects it has on my ear drums have barely diminished. This song will be a sight to behold come his Red Hill show in November, of that there is no doubt.
Era: Era has been out for a while already, so Iv had a bit more time to digest it. A jumbled cacophony of really brash sounds and crashing production with another trademark of Steinway’s, the underlying vocal as the song reaches its peak. It really doesn’t come into its own until the final drop where it picks up speed and becomes a whole lot less frustrating.
Run for your life (interlude): I’m feeling Jamie xx here, or perhaps some delightful background music playing beneath a long scenic pan of a nature show; its that or a Car/Telstra ad. It’s nice and mixes well into I Wanna Know.
I Wanna Know: First proper single off of the album and truly highlighted the beginning of the future bass/commercial RL that this album has given us. Powerful vocals on this give it a great anchor and it’s a song I have come to like, but admittedly that’s been after hearing it 100 times as I’m sure was the intention.
UCLA: Pretty gravelly, still trying to figure out if the sounds are irritating or cool. One of those songs that will throw your heart out of rhythm when you hear it live, but the lyrics are the real letdown.
Rainer: Is this Free by Flume, you listen and tell me? Synth and song structure similarities aside it’s a nice piece of music, brilliant build up as always. Really long build up here (nothing hits until over halfway through) but the result is awe-inspiringly ethereal and certainly worth the wait. Easy to see how he links this to space/Interstellar (although its less stratospheric than Aurora) but I’m getting Sandra Bullock in Gravity vibes more than anything.
Atoms: Brilliant closer, and in many way my favourite song off of the album. It is unexpectedly refreshing to hear something like this from RL, retaining his trademark production but becoming more melodic and lowering the tempo.
Overall thoughts: Let’s be completely clear, evolution or not this album has absolutely nothing on Void and even that had its share of mediocrity. Sure the style is different and production on the most part has improved immensely, but it is lacking so much. The powerful tracks come few and far between, largely drowned out by modern sounding music that is clearly too trendy to age well. Large portions of this album you can just skip right over, chop off five songs and you might reach mild acceptability. When it’s good it’s great, but sifting through the bland makes it clear that this album needed to be more compact and considered, with less shoehorning songs in for the sake of it.