RL Grime - NOVA
RL Grime ascended quickly.
It went straight to #1 on the iTunes Electronic Charts.
With sonically immaculate production and an energy behind his music that was uniquely his own, Grime swiftly claimed his piece of the EDM pie. Occupying the intersection of stripped-back trap and future bass, he made another smart move by coming together with "Harlem Shake" producer Baauer to create trap's most played song of the year, "Infinite Daps" in 2013. With dubstep firmly in the rear-view mirror of "trendy" music, the time was now for RL Grime and his brand of dark trap to collide with the rising future bass sound.
Enter What So Not. With the elite vocal chopped melodies of Flume and Emoh, the three talented producers released "Tell Me" in 2014. After sprinkling the EDM world with nothing but hits, RL Grime was ready for his first full-length album at the ripe age of 23. In late 2014, Void was released.
And like the sudden explosion of two stars in space, four years later NOVA is born. It's well documented the emotional struggle he felt in the years leading up to the album, with each melancholic tinge of depression demanding its way onto the album. Instead of pushing it away, it fuelled him to create an album that overcame his demons, creating light out of darkness.
At a glance, NOVA is a robust 15 songs, with more than half including a vocal collaboration. Although there is a nice array of variation in terms of playing around with genres, the actual execution of each style is standard. The snare fills in between 808 drops are text-book trap, included in thousands of trap songs. The more compact festival-ready "dance" tracks are as formulaic as a Goosebumps novel.
RL Grime is no stranger to evolution. Starting out as Clockwork, an electro-house main-stager, he's adapted into a visionary of trap with swagger. With NOVA, he has evolved again, this time away from pure straight-ahead festival bass-bangers, to some heavily R&B infused and almost top 40 pop sounding tunes. Some of the rap features feel unnecessary, offering very little. Almost as if their collaboration was for an aesthetic the vocals create rather than the substance of the lyrics. Some verses simply don't seem to line up with the vision of the album.
Album opener (and one of the last songs he completed) "Feel Free" draws you in with a clanging synth that melts into a Flume-esque vocal glide, rapidly building towards a beast of a trap drop. It's quintessential Grime, perfectly balanced trap elements and hi-hats absent for the first 16 bars. It's a banger, and the second drop stretches out the squealing lead into a wavy, drunk sounding stutter. The 808 climbs and falls at just the right moments.
The album wastes no time showcasing a variety of styles. The second tune, "Shrine" features a DnB style drum pattern, and although it's in the 176bpm range, it does have a slightly more syncopated flavor. The change of pace is nice, but the melody and progressions don't exactly re-invent the wheel. Most likely it will be remembered for RL Grime wading into the DnB waters, instead of a memorable piece of music.
Until the meat of the record, NOVA dances from genre to genre, with "Undo" producing the most simplistic trap offering, and "Take it Away" delivering a true future bass treat. However, the tracks that will resonate and be featured at all the festivals are "Reims" (one of our favorites from last year), "Pressure", and" Era". For good reason. The three tracks back-to-back-to-back create badass grooves, cinematic spice, and a weight unlike the rest of the album.
The trio of hits proves a comfortability and strength of RL Grime, not seen on the rest of the album. It's this strength he should continue to build upon while resisting the temptation to appease fans of too many different genres.
It needs to be kept in mind that this music is not meant for bedroom listening or late night cleaning. This is to be played loudly and relentlessly at all your favorite festivals, and it will be.
RL Grime climbed the EDM ladder and established himself as a leader and a master of his craft. Four years later, he's further claimed his piece of the pie but hasn't taken that large step forward. NOVA is an impressive piece of EDM on its own, but in the RL catalog, it marks a comeback album instead of the landmark album he's capable of.