Raury classifies himself as “different,” and different is good if you’ve grown weary of a genre’s ethos or are plagued by basic human curiosity. Because there’s a natural attraction to the different, it’s too often synonymous with “good.” Raury — a multi-genre cornucopia in the form of an 18-year-old from an Atlanta suburb — knows there’s always a crowd who appreciates that aesthetic. To be fair, that uniqueness appears to come from a genuine place rather than from a marketing perspective. In a New York Times profile, Raury said Indigo Child was made “from frustrations, made from being looked down upon, made from being an outcast and not like everyone else.”
Indigo Child isn’t the revenge of a nerd, but it’s a project guided by wanderlust. Raury changes up between cathartic gospel, chest-bumping reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are (see: fireside acoustic sing-along “Superfly”), and a bit of temporal arena rock. The left-field temperament works more as a source of appeal than a modus operandi for a debut. The genre-defying André 3000 (whose seeming approval is partially the reason behind the attention Raury’s been getting), is aware of the dangers of being too eager to experiment. “You do the world a better service by sticking to your guns,” André said in a recent New York Times interview.
The clear, overarching theme of Raury’s debut is the clash between teenage angst and the hot-blooded desire to express oneself. Indigo Child is tied together by a series of recorded, heated — and real — arguments between Raury and his mother. It’s nothing all that revelatory and instead exists to convey a sense of reality. Even without the skits, Indigo Child doesn’t quite sound like a teenager’s indulgences in creative tendencies and idealism. There’s a distinct earnestness to be found in the folk gem “Cigarette Song” and the arpeggio mysticism of the first half of “Wildfire”.
But teenage angst doesn’t work as a worldview to guide an album simply because it’s not a worldview. It’s a natural, reactionary response to adult authority and paranoia of suppression, whether implicit or explicit. Indigo Child wins in cohesion where it lacks in fully formed concepts. It’s a kaleidoscopic work that’s articulated from a noticeably bland perspective.
The biggest indicator of this failing is in the lyrics. On “Armor”, Raury tries to convey disappointment and longing through an echoing howl in the hook. Later, on “Chariots of Fire”, he attempts to channel Mad Max-esque urgency amidst distortion. But both ultimately fall short because of an ultimately shallow sense of gravitas. For the former, can anyone truly get swept up under the melodrama of “Now I seen the pain I caused/ Now you’re nothing but a memory,” in all its faux-Phil Collins grandeur? And what of “Better run, better run for your life/ Because not even the strong will survive”? Was Mötley Crüe/Guns N’ Roses-era id a reference point here?
Good ideas are ruined at other times simply because they run at least a minute too long. Again, the first part of “Wildfire” is a spark of brilliance. Unfortunately, it goes haywire in the closing minutes. There’s a bizarre “The Block Is Hot” homage, and Raury suddenly decides to threaten to “slap you with the hammer” — because he’s a “real nigga,” you see. There’s some drag in addition to the incongruence, too. The yearning affair that’s “Seven Suns”, the closing track, wears down its atmospheric charm thanks to repetition. The track is a partial success, however, thanks to the guitar solo that slides its way in.
Perhaps the best thing about lndigo Child is how, despite its inconsistency and verbal limitations, it never quite turns into a meandering chore like so many teenage bouts with experimentation. Each track is at least a partial success, and the multi-genre influences are worn well enough to sustain interest in Raury’s potential. And, for an 18-year-old with years of material ahead of him, that’s saying something. It’s up to Raury, however, to figure out what is there to be said.
Essential Tracks: “Cigarette Song”, “Seven Suns”