It's been a long four years since RL Grime's last album released, and for many fans of the trap sub-genre of EDM, today couldn't have come soon enough. If you ask them, trap has been stuck in mediocrity, and today is the day that RL Grime's new album NOVA explodes into the world to restore trap music to it's rightful place on the Iron Throne of EDM. Such are the expectations when you're a critically acclaimed pioneer of one of the most popular and commercially successful styles of EDM in the last decade, and you leave fans hanging for four years between albums.
Even with five previously released tracks, "Reims," "Era," "I Wanna Know," "Undo," and "Pressure," the album packs plenty of new music at 15 tracks long. Starting with "Feel Free," RL announces his official return with the tweaked horns and heavy bass that he's best known for intertwined with lighter melodies that immediately imply less dreary intentions than his last album, VOID. Up next is is "Shrine" featuring vocals from Freya Ridings, a D&B composition in the vein of Rudimental – soulful and instrumental.
"Light Me Up" featuring Miguel and Julia Michaels follows, and I can already hear the groans of the die hard trap heads. "Light Me Up" could be mistaken for a top 40 track if not for the trademark sub bass production that RL always brings. I'm sure the trap heads are thinking, "three tracks in and where the bangers at, yo?" You know what, "Light Me Up" is a great track. Imminently listenable melodies, smooth vocals, and a dose of heavy bass to underpin it all; this common thread connects it with the next several tracks on the album, "Undo feat. Jeremih & Tory Lanez," "Take It Away (feat. Ty Dolla $ign & TK Kravitz)," and "OMG (feat. Joji & Chief Keef)." "OMG" notably features Chief Keef, whose track "Love Sosa" RL Grime remixed into one of his biggest hits, currently flexing over 33 million plays on Soundcloud.
"Shoulda" redirects the album back towards a more electronic vibe and carries a throwback two step sound. Having touched on D&B, pop, and two-step thus far, in addition to the trap he's known for, it's clear that perhaps RL is looking to expand his sound beyond what the project has become known for. Long time fans will recollect that he started RL Grime to permit experimentation beyond his house music project, Clockwork. "Reims" was the first track from the album to see the light of day over a year ago. The sound is nothing short of celestial, and listening to the track in the course of this album, I was transported back to one of my favorite tracks from twenty plus years ago. "Reims" opens with the same style of shimmering synth work that Banco De Gaia's remix of L.S.G.'s "Netherworld" closes with, different pitch of course. I don't know if RL was thinking of me when he made "Reims," but let's assume he was trying to impress me by teleporting the sounds of my youth into present day.
Track 9, "Pressure" continues along a path diverging further from mainstream and features an accompanying music video released a day before the album. "Era" is perhaps my favorite track on the album starting with the tweaked horns that have become somewhat of a signature for RL into a muscular D&B finish. "Run For Your Life," with it's Moby-esque piano loops, marks the end of the detour into purely electronic composition and seamlessly transitions to the next track which marks a return to mainstream and vocal intentions. "I Wanna Know (feat. Daya)" drips with commercially accessible sonic flavors of EDM while remaining sincere in sound.
At this point most fans have realized that NOVA is not going to be the heavy trap banger album they were hoping would lift EDM trap from the shambles of present day back to the lofty heights it achieved in the early to mid part of the decade. Instead of trying to please those fans by reaching for past glory, RL looks to the future on his next track, "UCLA," by spotlighting Atlanta rapper 24hrs. With two tracks left, "Rainer" feels like the actual finish for the album, showcasing similar shimmering sound textures as "Reims," before fading abruptly to silence. "Atoms (feat. Jeremy Zucker)" follows, but feels like more of an encore than the closing to the album, and perhaps was tacked on to the end of the album by RL for reasons more personal than functional.
While there's certain to be much discontent among fans that were hoping for RL to put on another trap clinic, I don't think it was ever his intention to make the VOID part two. RL "had this vision of a “nova,” or of a star that begins as nothing but then expands endlessly until its light is all you can see. [His] vision is for the music to feel like the birth of something new. to start from where VOID left off, but rise up and soar across the sky [sic]. So in practice, NOVA is about RL Grime continuing to expand and grow his sound beyond the limits of his previous album and the artificial boundaries that fans attempt to impose, to grow from darkness into light – musically and personally. Those who make it beyond the trappings of expectation will discover an album with excellent production and composition containing innovative and meaningful sonic content.
i spent a lot of 2015-2017 depressed, anxious and unmotivated. the music i was making for NOVA reflected that; it felt melancholy, but still hopeful. this album was made during a period in my life of growing up and learning how to deal with sadness, and overwhelming stress. i wanted my music to emerge from that darkness, but not to abandon the feelings that had shaped the project in the first place. i wanted to take the sounds that before seemed to emanate from somewhere down below, and bring them up into the skies, and into space. i wanted to find that same sort of power in something light.. etherial but strong. I know that may sound abstract, but that’s how i can best describe it.
when I’m writing music, i lean heavily on visual inspirations. i like to visualize places and moments in my head and write music that I feel fits there. throughout the process i had this vision of a “NOVA”, or of a star that begins as nothing but then expands endlessly until its light is all you can see. my vision is for the music to feel like the birth of something new. to start from where VOID left off, but rise up and soar across the sky.
i dont say this enough but i truly would not be in this position where i’m able to create what I want to without the love and support from you guys. it is a constant motivator and reminder to keep going and continue to challenge myself. So thank you. i hope this album connects with you the way it connected with me.