Review Summary: The exact type of life-affirming art the world needs in 2021
The lush and vibrant sound of Porter Robinson’s “Nurture” wasn’t achieved without a fight. To say that he’s been put through the wringer in the last five years would be an understatement. Writer’s block, the ever present weight of depression, and a family member’s battle with cancer are just a few of the colossal challenges that have faced the producer since his last release under his own name. In the years since 2014’s highly influential “Worlds”, we’ve received a remix of that same album, one-off single “Shelter”, and an EP under the guise of Robinson’s alter ego, Virtual Self. He’s been hard at work bringing his Second Sky Festival to life and using his platform to catapult other artists into public discussion. It seems like it’s been an eternity since we’ve been able to peek behind the veil and take a good look at Porter himself, which is what makes “Nurture” such a revelation.
For readers unfamiliar with him, Robinson isn’t just a household name within EDM circles; it’s hard to point to an individual who has influenced the scene more since he arrived onto it. It’s been seven years since his last full-length project, which makes the expectations attached to “Nurture” nothing short of astronomical. I’m elated to say that he has delivered. A late April release date is absolutely perfect for a project like this; “Nurture” is the inevitable bloom of springtime, a downpour passing over followed by the warm embrace of the sun. Short prelude “Lifelike” sets the stage immaculately with propulsive strings and jaunty percussion lurking underneath the surface, but it’s true opener “Look at the Sky” that encapsulates the album’s mission statement. Lyrically, Robinson isn’t shy whatsoever about describing the way his experiences have impacted him; “Look at the Sky” is uncertainty and anxiety (“you’re losing your gift and it’s plain to see”) paired uncomfortably with hesitant hope (“Look at the sky, I’m still here/I’ll be alive next year”). Nothing about this lyric reinvents the wheel, but through the lens of Porter Robinson’s spirited production, it makes the listener believe they can conquer worlds.
The album only gains steam from there. Stirring vocal samples pack a strong emotional punch on early highlight “Wind Tempos”, which is swiftly one-upped by “Musician”, one of the most impressive bangers Robinson has ever crafted. “Something Comforting” utilizes an effects-laden acoustic guitar to build to one of the record’s most satisfying drops, and features a switch to double time that might just be my favorite moment on this whole thing. The aforementioned pairing of anxiety and hope continues to shine through on back half cuts like “Sweet Time” and the poignant “Mirror”, but considering all the gnawing fear and existential angst present beneath the beauty here, it’s wonderful to hear a track like “Mother”, which tenderly affirms community and the ability to trust another person (“I’m on your side for the rest of your life / You’ll never be alone, don’t you worry, my child”). Mid-album instrumental “dullscythe” features Robinson slowing the tempo down a bit, only to paint the canvas with crackling techno drums and jerky syncopation. It’s an anomalous moment on the record, and a sound I find myself wishing he had explored more deeply, but I feel as though I can’t complain when the rest of the album is as wonderful as it is.
The record’s sole feature resides in “Unfold”, courtesy of the hilariously named Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. If any track here hearkens back to “Worlds” it’s this one, with its pulsating kick drum and euphoric hook. I wasn’t surprised to read that this track was inspired by T.E.E.D.’s appreciation for Porter’s “Sea of Voices”, as both use the same wall-of-sound style production and highly tense potential energy in their quiet sections. The vocal feature by T.E.E.D. is great, but “Nurture” is at its strongest when Porter and his story are front and center, which is thankfully the entire rest of the album’s runtime. Closer “Trying to Feel Alive” puts him firmly back in the driver’s seat to do his best M83 impression, which he excels at; however, it pales in comparison to the sounds on this record that more unique to Robinson himself.
“Nurture” takes the extremely high expectations foisted upon it and delivers not only a suitable follow-up to “Worlds”, but improves upon it in nearly every way. Porter Robinson has sublimated his pain and deepest emotions into a gripping listening experience that is the exact type of life-affirming art the world needs in 2021. It doesn’t end quite as strong as it begins, but “Nurture” is still well worth anyone’s time, and an album I highly recommend.