It feels as if Mura Masa, or Alex Crossan, has been present in the world of left-of-centre music for an eternity. The Guernsey-born Producer has released three albums, accumulated an endless repertoire of collaborators and even picked up a Grammy before reaching the age of 24.
Raw Youth Collage delivers exactly as the title promises. The album is a scrapbook-style exploration of adolescence; in both its romanticism and clumsiness.
This is never exercised more perfectly than in the album’s opening number and title track. ‘R.Y.C’ is a stark change in sound from Mura Masa’s previous slick dance tracks; with a glitchy unease in both content and delivery. The distorted, minimalist vocals of R.Y.C document anxiety and uncertainty, set to an unpolished bass guitar riff; inducing a kind of jagged claustrophobia from the offset. The understated production and pure simplicity of R.Y.C makes it easy to overlook the fact that, as a caveat to the rest of the album, it is a perfect song in every way.
One of the most talked-about tracks of late 2019, ‘Deal Wiv It’, takes the double scoop as both R.Y.C’s highlight and proverbial black sheep. Punk-Rapper (and unofficial spokesman for grimy middle England) Slowthai deftly captures the confrontation and humour of the UK in a Parklife-esque piece of cultural perception.
The Northampton rapper clamours; “I went to the pub and asked for a pint for three quid. He said it’s a fiver, well that’s gentrification, you prick.”
Much of Mura Masa’s intrigue lies in the stellar series of collaborators that he attracts. With this album alone featuring the likes of Clairo, Georgia, Tirzah and Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, Alex Crossan has become a gatekeeper in his own right for the UK’s alternative music scene; a Mark Ronson figure for people who know what M-CAT is.
Such an exhaustive list of guest artists arrives with expectation, however. ‘Teenage Headache dreams’, featuring Britain’s Indie-Rock sweetheart Ellie Rowsell, never quite lives up to its own potential, despite culminating in an arresting crescendo. R.Y.C’s halfway point, ‘Vicarious Living Anthem’, also falls short of the mark. The composition adopts a repetitive structure and lacklustre melody, with the result sounding like a diluted sibling of album compatriot ‘No Hope Generation’.
‘Live Like We’re Dancing’ provides a necessary injection of optimism from one of pop’s most likable performers, Georgia. An upbeat chorus and Italo piano soundbed allows the track to act as a bridging point, harking back to Mura’s previous releases.
The heavy presence of guitar throughout Raw Youth Collage highlights the evolving role that the instrument can play in the mainstream. “I feel like people are now praying for some authenticity and some human touch to music.” Alex Crossan recently told NME. ‘There’s no simpler outlet to that than guitar and piano.’
Despite Mura’s hefty experience in the industry, R.Y.C could easily be a debut album, conveying the sense of confession and self-indulgence that most acts forgivably spunk on their first release. The LP is delivered in a brash, voice-note style which perfectly conveys the a sense of youthfulness and faux-naivety. This makes for a ballsy display of intentional underproduction from a Producer that has achieved far beyond the need to prove his mettle.
Perhaps, with success taking hold of Alex Crossan before reaching adulthood, this is the product of an artist finally exercising the youthful angst that he masked in favour of immaculacy during his first two releases. R.Y.C is personal and reflective, simultaneously harbouring hopeless romanticism and a punk ideology… a near-perfect homage to adolescence.
Words by Matt Ganfield