Credit: Dan Regan
Music by M.G. Mailloux

Best Albums of 2021: Porter Robinson | Nurture

January 8, 2022

#2. Though few may have expected it, Porter Robinson emerged, quite triumphantly, as one of 2021’s most significant pop artists, reasserting himself as the ultimate innovator of this particular electronic dance music blend. Emerging from Skrillex’s OWSLA and the remnants of the early 2010s US EDM movement, Robinson’s 2014 album Worlds landed on an awkward cultural precipice, debuting an evolved take on the genre right as it was going out of fashion in a serious way. But while dominant critical tastes didn’t quite favor Robinson in that moment, inevitably, they’ve rolled back around to somewhere significantly more receptive to the starry-eyed producer in recent years, his idealistic, anthemic dance tracks an appealing contrast to the generally empty music dominating contemporary pop charts. 

And so, Nurture, Robinson’s incredible 2021 comeback album, had the good fortune of arriving at a triumphant moment for the now canonical EDM producer, his work having found devotees of a younger generation that unashamedly hold him up as a major artist (other InRO Top 10 honoree dltzk has frequently cited him as an essential inspiration). Accordingly, Nurture is a celebration of its author and his persistence (having stepped back from the spotlight for several years while combating depression), but not self-consciously or cloyingly, nor does it prioritize his experience over the audiences. An album that is pointedly timely in a way that can be broadly felt, and also totally, deeply personal, Robinson’s sharp pop lyricism allows for both at once, prioritizing anthem over specifics. Picking up from around where we last heard from him (there have been some side projects in between, like Visual Self), Nurture feels like an organic follow up to Worlds, putting further distance between himself and the harsher electro house type sound that initially characterized his work in favor of a spacier, more expansive vision of electronic pop music. Still mostly working off of a crowd-pleasing dance music template, Nurture moves across a wide spectrum of synth-based sonic palettes (synth pop, electronica, ambient) backed by occasional analog string instrumentation, striking a happy balance between the artificial and organic — fitting for an album that is, most basically, about celebrating the joy of life in an often dehumanizing digital world and relearning one’s sense of optimism. With Nurture, it would seem that Robinson has accomplished just this, returning to the big pop thrills that made his career with a new (and convincing) sense of earnest wonder that grants these songs a simple profundity. Sweeping and lovely in a fashion not usually associated with spectacle of this scale, Nurture locates a human essence in the machine that gives the project a sense of vitality all too currently rare in the genre and pop industry at large, but that Robinson generously imagines in accessible, inspiring terms.