Nurture, the second studio album from the Atlanta-born, Chapel Hill-based artist, is a foray into some of his most emotionally driven work yet. Coming from his complextro era (a term he coined around his Spitfire EP), Porter ventures into a more sentimental take on traditional sounds. While not necessarily compromising with his established sound up to this point, Porter finds his voice in a more literal sense, writing and singing on almost every song on the project.
Kicking the album off is “Lifelike,” a track which has Porter demonstrating his virtuosic aptitude at establishing atmosphere. The first thirty seconds are still, with a repeating pad that comes to function as a sort of white noise against a gentle, initially lonesome piano. Some skittering samples transition the listener into the main melody and body of the song, complete with strings and melodica dancing around what sounds like a toy piano arpeggio. The image that comes forth is something like a cottage in the middle of a forest, or a vista from the Italian coast. Isolated, and at peace with your surroundings.
Porter took huge influence from the works of Takagi Masakatsu, and during a livetweet session the morning of the album’s release, provided an anecdote regarding the inspiration behind another song on the album, “Wind Tempos.” While the overall pathos of the album is a more organic one (especially in the context of electronic music as a genre and much of his earlier works), there’s something poignant about having these moments of raw musicality and release by way of the simplest and most fundamental sounds being present and forward.
”Look at the Sky” serves as the de facto opening to the album, starting with a subtle, lulled measure of what sounds like distant bells. Where “Lifelike” was the portal into this world and a few establishing shots, “Look at the Sky” is the zoom in on the protagonist getting ready for the day. It feels like flinging a cottage door open to a vast field on a hill with the open sky laid out before you. A distinctly warm, ambient, feeling somewhat set against deeply reflective lyrics. For as energetic as the intro comes to be, the first line of “Is it fate? If it’s not easy, it must not be” brings an instance of doubt into an otherwise rather lightweight setting.
Throughout the album, Porter addresses these juxtapositions of hope conflicting with one’s own critical inner voice, next seen on “Get Your Wish”. Both singles speak volumes to the difficulty one might have dealing with any manner of mental illness or overwhelming expectation, as well as indirectly accenting the struggles the pandemic has brought upon the world at large.
Porter’s experimental spirit shines through brilliantly on “dullscythe,” the midpoint of the album and his most initially incoherent song to date. Completely divorced from any sense of meter or time (that’s coming directly from him—he’s offered a crisp high five to anyone that can actually count the beginning portion), the track takes off into a flurry of disjointed and stuttering sampled piano parts, twisting and weaving as if to communicate that this an idea coming to him in a manner as organically as it would to the listener. Deep kick drums come in to provide a vague sense of structure, but we’re still left with a largely ambiguous sense of rhythm until things mellow out around the two-minute mark. The pulses quiet, the glitches settle, and an ambient pad sound emerges from the background with the return of the kick. It’s a cohesive groove that almost feels as though you’ve come up from beneath the surface of the ocean, and the idea has made itself clear.
The ballads, as welcome of a surprise as they are, beautifully highlight a side of Porter that hasn’t really appeared in many of his previous works, lyrically or thematically . Starting with the first of the two, “Sweet Time,” Porter reflects on the impact the relationship he’s had with his girlfriend of four years. The track instrumentally evokes something Masashi Hamauzu would compose anywhere from Final Fantasy X to XIII. The way the drums meander with the backing vox pads and the gentle, sparse piano melodies gives an image as though he wrote this amongst a patch of flowers in a cave, backlit by a giant aether crystal. He highlights the time they have together on this Earth as so meaningful such that it instills in him the fear of death, and that the world is better for having her in it (“Oh, the world is lucky to be your home”). This theme carries itself in the second verse: “To live with dying/oh wouldn’t you see our world as dark/but I won’t spend time resenting the way things are.” He’s aware that they can’t be together forever, as it were, but she’s taught him the value of treasuring where you are and living in the moment.
While initially at odds with this idea of their time being up eventually, in “Blossom,” he seems to have made peace with the fact and presents with more grace lyrically and conceptually. He’s more mature, if a little sober, imagining him and Rika (whose name might happen to be inspiration for the title of the song as it can be written as “梨花”, which translates to “pear blossom”) on a walk, with her hand running over the moss. In sitting with this, and in being so taken by the beauty of it all, he’s similarly frustrated with the nature of their humanity together as he was on “Sweet Time,” but catches himself and apologizes for getting ahead of himself in such a way, stripping back the processing on his vocals to deliver an “I love you” in his own voice. Being as preoccupied with time as he is, Rika comforts him; speaking (or singing, to be more direct) to all the beauty that surrounds them, and that the time only feels like it’s passing if he dwells on it. Ever the invitation to enjoy the granular moments as they come, and that there’s wisdom to a sentiment that might otherwise seem naive.
Music is just as much about deliberation and purpose as it is about messing around and seeing what sticks. With so much time spent before and during the creation of this album focusing intently on his craft and essentially exceeding whatever expectations he had for himself, he lost sight of why he began making music in the first place. He summarized his philosophy going into the album that Worlds was “third-person”, while Nurture would be “first-person.” It was in overcoming the grief that he felt coming off the success of Worlds and finally allowing himself to occupy his space artistically free from anything but his own whims, along with a couple other key factors (thank you, Rika) that he was able to reach this level of catharsis. For a world so wrought by isolation, Nurture is a window to a bright and hopeful future.