Mura Masa’s Guitar-Based Dance-Pop Soars on R.Y.C

The Grammy-winning producer follows his epic dance debut with youthful indie heart

Music Reviews Mura Masa
Mura Masa’s Guitar-Based Dance-Pop Soars on R.Y.C

The U.K. has a great tradition of albums about youth. Acts like Buzzcocks, The Smiths, Arctic Monkeys and others released full-lengths that became eternally programmed into teenagers’ heads as soon as they rushed home from the record store. And Britain also has a robust electronic music history, too: Artists like The Chemical Brothers, Pet Shop Boys and Aphex Twin have inspired listeners across several generations, and they’re all still touring and making music.

Enter Alex Crossan, the 23-year-old musician and producer behind Mura Masa whose 2017 self-titled debut LP was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the Grammy Awards. His first album featured appearances from A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens, Damon Albarn and more—pretty impressive for a baby-faced musician’s first solo album.

R.Y.C (which stands for Raw Youth Collage) is meant to evoke the general and specific chaos of modern day youth, and per NME, he found musical inspiration from some of the fresh British faces that are shaking things up: slowthai, Squid, Stomrzy and black midi. If his debut showcased Britain’s more exotic sounds, then his second album taps into the country’s urgent newcomers. However, the escapism that pervaded his debut is still here, albeit packaged in a grittier, less heady way.

To open R.Y.C (Raw Youth Collage), Crossan takes a potentially cheesy risk by emulating a teenage wannabe rock star—deliberately buzzing guitar strings ring out, the kind that could only come from the bedroom of someone whose finger calluses haven’t set in yet, even if they’ve got the rock ‘n’ roll pout down. It’s cheeky for sure, but he blends the raw plucks into his worldly electro-pop with surprising finesse.

R.Y.C doesn’t feature any A-list guests, but he recruited several buzzy, young vocalists who shot up in popularity over the past year: Clairo, slowthai, Tirzah and Georgia. He might be sacrificing cohesion by utilizing so many names, but every song is so beautifully suited to each respective artist that it’s not a sticking point. Much like Clairo’s debut Immunity, “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again” is beautifully intimate, and her vocals are so satisfyingly smooth that you’ll need a fainting couch. Just by reading the title of track five, “Deal Wiv It,” you can already imagine slowthai shouting that line at you—which he does both boastfully and with humor. Tirzah’s “Today” evokes the same leisurely, left-field R&B as her 2018 debut Devotion, and Georgia’s “Live Like We’re Dancing” is marked by the euphoric dance pulse that appears on her sophomore album Seeking Thrills. Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell is the album’s final guest, and considering her Mercury Prize-winning band has been quiet for a while, her appearance is more than welcome. “Teenage Headache Dreams” showcases the three vocal modes she’s perfected over the years—dancing whispers, jittery spoken-word and soaring radiance.

R.Y.C features fewer guests than his debut, so Crossan takes on more lead vocal duties this time around. And though he’s not as vocally talented as the singers who appear on his albums, his dramatic dance-pop production helps fill in the gaps. (After all, his studio know-how won him a Grammy in 2019 for his remix of HAIM’s “Walking Away.”)

One of those Crossan-sung songs, “No Hope Generation,” would sound just as good in a bedroom as it would a massive field. Over skittering beats, Crossan’s auto-tuned voice is both rousing and soothing. The track shows off the kind of bleak humor that cuts especially deep with his peers. If the early 20th century had the jitterbug and the 1930s had the jive, Crossan imagines that the signifying dance craze of current twentysomethings would entail “a bottle and a gun.”

These songs approach common dynamics found in youthful art, but they all still feel sincere. It’s a sort of choose-your-fighter for millennials interested in self-preservation. Take your pick between various modes of being that many of us know all too well—taking no shit (“Deal Wiv It”), wistfulness (“I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again”), formless despair (“Raw Youth Collage”) or crippling fear (“In My Mind”). The stream of consciousness lyrics in the title track might seem like unstructured ramblings, but these are the exact kind of warring thoughts that flood the brains of young people all the time.

Guitar-based dance-pop doesn’t isn’t the most competitive musical space, but Mura Masa doesn’t skip out on his stretches. One listen to “vicarious living anthem,” and you’ll wish more indie rockers used auto-tune. Between Jagwar Ma-like dance-pop (“In My Mind”), diary-entry indie (“a meeting at an oak tree”), bass-thumping grime (“Deal Wiv It)” and angelic dream-pop (“Teenage Headache Dreams”), R.Y.C makes no sense on paper, but Mura Masa displays his knob-turning strengths, dizzying versatility and ever-expanding potential, proving he more than belongs amongst his British youth-oriented and electronic forebears.

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