Since I was a wide-eyed eighth grader obsessed with Beat Saber and politics Twitter, laying across the apartment couch and blasting “Sad Machine” through green-glowing Razer headphones, I’d waited. I’d waited through a worldwide pandemic, locked in my room; I’d waited through endless months of online classes; I’d pushed through years of teenage angst and confusion and the upheaval of everything I thought I knew, sprinting towards an infinitesimal vanishing point of hope at the end of the horizon—I made it—Nurture was the first album that truly meant anything to me, and this morning, as I roll onto my side and check the time, it all dawns on me. I made it. It’s April 23rd, 2021. Porter Robinson released a new album and I can go outside and listen to it. I made it.
“I made it,” I tell myself, over and over. And I try to force myself to get out of bed. And I can’t.
Nurture is an album of hope. It’s life-affirming, triumphant, beautiful and realistically optimistic in a way that few pieces of art are. And my experience with Nurture is one of hope. But not the kind of hope that leaves you on the top of a mountain, staring down at your treacherous journey and knowing you could do it all again. The hope I harbored as I waited for this album’s release was different—one of climbing, of struggling upward and barely making it and hanging onto the belief that you’ll somehow feel better at the end of it all.
This will not be a review of Nurture. I won’t mention half of the songs, including some of the album’s best; I’ll barely talk about its sound. That’s not because I have nothing to say about it. Nurture isn’t my favorite album of all time for nothing. It’s because my experience of this album is profoundly intertwined with my experience of life. Even with my favorite albums, the ones that connect to me on such a deep level that I can sit down and write an essay about them on the spot—Kero Kero Bonito’s Time ‘n’ Place, Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There, Lingua Ignota’s Sinner Get Ready—they’re pieces of art, first and foremost. For me, Nurture is an emotional journey, a life’s arc, the soundtrack to a meticulous coming-of-age film. Nurture is the story of Porter Robinson and his triumph over the struggle to create art, but, from my (admittedly egocentric) vantage point, it’s simultaneously the story of my teenagehood. I can’t review it like an album, because my story is as necessary to my view of the album as the music itself.
But my story and Nurture’s aren’t all that disparate. Nurture is one man’s tale of escaping the euphoric highs of fantasy, simmering for years in the languidness of real life, and finally realizing that everything we need is already here, in the priceless moments of natural beauty and unconditional love. Concurrently, the album’s rollout accompanied some of the worst years of my life, where I was forced out of a yearslong sheltered fantasy and plunged into adolescent uncertainty. Both characters are intensely scared of losing the one they love; both characters feel like they’re languishing, losing talent, wondering what happened to themselves. And both characters made it out alive, somehow.
So, this will not be a review of Nurture. It’ll be a complementary narrative, a story of what this album means to me. And a story of how I made it out alive. Somehow.
'𝘯𝘶𝘳𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦', 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘥 𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘳𝘰𝘣𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘰𝘯 𝘢𝘭𝘣𝘶𝘮
𝘪 𝘱𝘶𝘵 𝘮𝘺 𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴. 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘪𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘰𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘳𝘰𝘸
Nurture was announced on January 28, 2020, forty-eight days before God locked us in our rooms with little more than Twitter, surgical-grade masks, and sourdough bread recipes. I’ll never forget where I was when I first saw this album’s teaser—standing in the middle of the school library, phone in hand, frozen. A new Porter Robinson album.
I discovered Porter Robinson through a Newgrounds edit of “Shelter,” his legendary collaboration with Madeon. I mostly listened to Geometry Dash dubstep before then, but, as soon as I discovered Porter, something changed. Porter’s escapist synthpop masterpiece Worlds flipped my perspective on music. I realized that EDM could be transportive, nostalgic, ethereal; it could tear my heart into a thousand different pieces and stitch it back up again all within a few minutes; it could be high-concept and fantastical and imbued with genuine passion. I had liked music before, but Worlds was the only album that ever made me feel something. I fell in love immediately.
But, almost immediately, Nurture felt different. Worlds was announced with a ten-hour loop of strangely-peaceful, dystopian electronic voices, distorted television static and glitches. It envisioned a euphoric fantasy of sentient machinery and wistful digital love, and I could close my eyes and felt myself transported to another world. But nobody can live with their (metaphorical) eyes closed forever. Nurture, from its inception, embraced real life. Instead of distortion, Nurture’s art juxtaposed abstract scribbles with Earthen imagery. It was distinguishably Porter, but it simultaneously felt natural. Instead of eschewing an unforgiving world, Nurture felt rooted in place.
And “Get Your Wish,” Porter’s first new song since 2014, took on a similarly novel tone. The song was not only different from “Worlds” but diametrically opposed to it—while “Worlds” revels in escapism, “Get Your Wish” repudiates it entirely. It’s a song about the hangover after external validation fails and you’re stuck with nothing but yourself, about grasping for affirmation when it feels like your fifteen minutes are up, about the false promises of living gloriously, above the real world.
That was a message I barely understood until the beginning of freshman year, five months after the release of “Get Your Wish.”
[On my first day in Zoom high school, I wrote a time capsule to myself, to be opened at the end of my senior year. I remember little except quoting the song: “One day you choke, your urges overflow / And obsession wears you down / But don't you waste the suffering you've faced / It will serve you in due time”. At a time when it felt like the world was collapsing in on itself, when it took motivation to even get up and stare at my computer, I had to remember to live for those around me, for the future. That was a lesson I’d never forget.]
The first time I heard “Get Your Wish” was in my middle school’s computer room, the same place where I’d spend hours holed up and listening to Worlds Live edits. My first memory of “Something Comforting” was sitting at the back of the same school, in a computer room for some club I didn’t really care about, my gaming headphones glowing as I blasted the song through my speakers. It was four days before I’d never return to that school again.
The mere existence of “Something Comforting” is a beacon of hope. The song’s hook was written in 2015, when that little musical hook was the only thing Porter could write. It provided equal parts hope and despair as he struggled to search for anything as good as that one synth motif. Eventually, he found an entire album’s worth of inspiration—but it took years. “Something Comforting” embodies the very staggered, pained hope that so many of us felt during the pandemic as the promised “light at the end of the tunnel” kept receding further and further into the future—the feeling that we had nothing. That I had nothing.
It would be another five months, from March to August—five months where my life systematically disassembled itself, leaving my eighth-grade self to pick up the pieces and wonder what the hell happened—before another Nurture single. Until then, I clinged onto “Something Comforting” like a liferaft in the middle of an all-destroying pubescent storm. When you’re young, it can feel like nobody understands what you’re going through. I felt like nothing understood except this song. It had grown up with me, entering my life a week before it all fell apart, seeing me through the best of times and comforting me through the worst. Upon first listen, “Something Comforting” was no more than a good song by my favorite artist. But, soon after, it was my savior. At times, I would hold onto this song as if I had nothing else—not talking to anyone, not working, just laying across my bed—the only comfortable spot in my confines of a room—just listening to this song, holding onto a pillow—something comforting … something comforting … something …
And it did nothing. I felt nothing except what I had felt before. Loneliness.
I said that it would be five months until I heard new Nurture music, but that was a bit of a lie. On May 9, 2020, Porter Robinson livestreamed his set for Secret Sky and premiered an all-new DJ set. I’ll never forget that day—holed up in my room for an hour. Seventy minutes in, as the set came to a close, Porter walked off of his makeshift stage and debuted two minutes of a new song. It was called, presumably, “Look at the Sky”.
The set had energized me—for an hour, I was headbanging violently, spinning around in an office chair, happy just to see Porter play more than anything. But during “Look at the Sky,” I remember nothing but tearing up. For the next few months, I would listen to nothing more than this little two-minute fragment of a song. This was the first indication to me that Nurture represented true, unfiltered hope—that, with this album, I could make it through, I would survive, despite it all. It would be impossible to explain what this song meant to me at the time. When I had nothing more than Discord friends and a handful of Porter songs, this song was everything. It taught me to persist—through the eleven months to Nurture, sure, but through an excruciating summer, through the end of the lockdowns, through to today. I told myself that, no matter what, I’d be alive next year.
[At the end of 2019, I synced the end of the music video of Porter Robinson and Madeon’s “Shelter” with the beginning of 2020. It synced perfectly. But, since the onset of the pandemic, I increasingly began to feel as if it was all my fault for starting off the year with a story about a girl finding herself in isolation with no systems of support. So, as 2020 faded into 2021, I tried to sync its ending with “Look At The Sky,” ending this awful year on a note of hope and resilience. But, as 11:59 became 12:00, I still found myself fumbling with the video controls, and it didn’t work. That mistake was just as prescient as that of the year previous.]
By the time “Look At The Sky” had its proper release, alongside the release date for Nurture, it really felt like I had made it. I was alive, next year. Sitting in the same room as I had eight months and nineteen days earlier, watching Porter Robinson debut the song, I reloaded Porter Robinson’s web store and found the LP, available for pre-order. Album coming April 23, 2021. The day had finally come. I nearly teared up, talking to friends, shaking as I turned off the camera in my Zoom class. It was over. Nurture was coming. It was here.
By the time it arrived, things were much, much different.
The last time I could ever use AOTY.org was on Sunday, April 18th, 2021. Five days before Nurture released. I’m still convinced that was some kind of cruel joke.
AOTY was my life at the time. I poured hours into reviews weekly, spent much of my time talking with friends on the Nurture chat, and fell in love (with the wonderful @halbery <3). At a new school where freshman year was confined to a virtual box among a gallery of faces, AOTY was my clique, even my identity. As it was taken away, I felt as if that identity—my relationship, my friends, everything—was being stripped from me.
And, just like that, wisps of light filter through partially-closed, navy-blue curtains as my eyes begin to blink themselves open.
It’s a bright, chilly spring morning. The day I’ve been waiting for.
After I mustered the energy to get out of bed, face my obligations, and make it through a day of partially-in-person school, I came home, sat at the dinner table, neglected my work and listened to Nurture.
I remember my first listen to Nurture as nothing more than a blur—sitting at the kitchen table, my head in my hands, a tissue box immediately to my right. I first started to tear up around “Look at the Sky,” as I began to feel that Porter’s ode to hope had become more of a naive dark comedy, a painful testament to happier days. But as I heard Porter sing that “since I met you / I don’t wanna die no more” on “Sweet Time,” I felt myself shaking, losing control. Wishing, for just a second, that I hadn’t met Lucy, that I hadn’t met anyone. I wanted to curl up into fetal position and pass out for a month and wake up in a new world.
“Blossom,” with its saccharine guitar and maudlin lyricism, felt like being repeatedly punched in the ribcage. All I remember was sitting there, frozen in the same spot, sobbing. I knew at that point that Nurture would be my favorite album of all time, but I can’t remember hating Porter Robinson more than I did then. Just for perfectly describing how it feels to be isolated but in love; just for the privilege of talking about loss as a hypothetical and not a crushing reality. I hated him. And, the more I listened, the emptier my box of tissues became.
[Sunday, April 25, 2021. I find myself wishing to never wake from my dreams, where reality can be anything and where I don’t have to conform to this life.]
[I need community.]
A few days after Nurture’s release, as I stood in the shower, crying, I wondered about something that I still ponder now—what value do the material things that matter most to us have without the people that matter most? Nurture was the thing that had driven me. It pushed me, encouraged me to keep climbing during the worst of times, embraced me when I felt that nothing else was there—and yet, at this moment, it meant nothing to me. I’d gained the thing I wanted most, and lost everything in exchange.
At that moment, I realized that it wasn’t the album that was special to me.
The music was nothing more than music. It couldn’t save me. It was Chelsea, the friend who messaged me when Porter announced his new album in the early months of 2020. It was Paper2222, the friend who I spammed with overjoyed messages during Secret Sky. It was Kate, who I bonded over Porter with in the early days of my time on AOTY. It was Lucy, whose love carried me through confusion and disorientation and everything else for a couple euphoric months at the beginning of the year. It was each one of them, and each one of you. Nurture would mean nothing without them. It means nothing without them. It took over a year for me to learn the truth—an album couldn’t save me. Everything we need is already here. And I’d only learned that when nothing I needed was there.
[Nurture came out just as I was about to return to school for the first time in over a year. That first day, I walked around campus, my head down, barely maintaining the energy to even talk to my friends. That first day, at lunch, I had plans to do nothing but lay across the grass at the front of the school and listen to the album. But, soon after I sat down, someone I had never met walked up to me and asked if he could sit next to me. We became friends for the rest of the year.]
For a year, I lived as if Nurture would save me—as if the album would come and sweep all my problems away. I looked forward to April 23, 2021 like it was a holiday. It represented more than a release date to me. It was the day when quarantine would be over. When I could reunite with the world I once knew and finally enjoy the first new Porter album since I was a naive middle schooler. It wasn’t that. Just a week after Nurture’s release, I decided to enter therapy; mask-wearing ensued for months after April; and it took a long time to shake the pain of losing my love, my community, my identity. Nurture is, by all means, a healing album. But its release didn’t heal me. What healed me was time. What healed me was knowing that people still found the time to care about me. To love me.
[About a week after the album came out, I started to learn “Blossom” on the piano. I would sway back and forth silently, playing the arpeggiated chords as tenderly as I could to preserve the memory of love lost, scared to sing the lyrics aloud for fear of my parents hearing, sniffing back tears as I recited the words in my mind, closing my eyes and imagining an alternate life, picturing us happy; in the weeds we talked, your hand running through the moss… I was so lost in thought, but you were there, living… you’ve taken me with you…]