Alternative R&B is in a good place right now, having a greater impact on mainstream R&B, no doubt because of its rawness, its intimacy and grit. This is the angle that Rituals of Mine’s Hype Nostalgia finds itself squarely locked within. Understanding the album also requires understanding the impetus of the work itself, something that Terra Lopez, now effectively the sole member of Rituals of Mine, has laid bare in recent statements regarding her father’s suicide, and the death of another close friend.
The struggle of grief, of loss, and the need for understanding is universal, yet Hype Nostalgia taps into something deeper. This consistency of both emotional vulnerability and rich production is one of its greatest strengths. Lopez sings at a gentle register that still feels lush, even through repetition that seems carefully measured, introducing prog elements from the start on the opening track “Tether.”
Alongside the sonic conceit of the work is a pronounced emphasis on lyrics. The strongest storytelling component here is the tense, terse and aching lyricism. Lead single “Come Around Me” presents some of the greater concepts littered throughout the album, such as existentialism in “I think about death too often/don’t know what that’s about,” and the banality and repetition of relations that have exhausted their time, “going through the motions/going through/going through the silence, going through.” It’s not overly complicated, it doesn’t need to be to achieve its goals, reading more as a confession instead of poesy.
The soundscapes created here are often minimal, bleary, watery, inescapable, but at times flirt with a fascinating dichotomy. On “Exceptions,” via descending beats and a slow groove through an arch of gory bass and soothing synths, we can hear Lopez muse about her former creative partner, “I called you blood/ And meant every word/ We lost full days/ Got me down/ Wondering about it.”
While tonally consistent, there are tracks that depart away from the measured and hushed contemplations. “Trauma” conveys a sense of menace, of isolation, only to transition seamlessly to “Free Throw,” which maintains the same sonic posture and rhythm, but represents a drastic departure lyrically, exploring a moment of bravado. As for Lopez’s vocals, they are broad and dynamic, presenting a complex dynamism exemplified on “Reflex,” another shifting and ethereal probe into introspection, communicating vulnerability with every lingering syllable, a kind of hushed wonder. A persistent, wavy, high reverb-drenched backbeat certainly doesn’t hurt.
More experimentation comes through toward the end of the album. “Omen,” a track that clocks in just a minute and a half and bearing only one verse, has a haunting quality that is memorable, effective and focused. Closing track “The Last Wave” features a lone piano composition and showcases, once more, Lopez’s chameleon-like vocalization, drilling deep down into a realm of thoughtful despair, reflecting on the totality of the album in a way that feels raw, bloody and kept.
Hype Nostalgia is an album that confronts head-on ideas of dealing with, understanding, and presenting the miasma of personal grief and struggle. There is a loneliness here that, when scaled against its reserved and reverb-drenched compositions, is titanic in size. While the album can sometimes find itself in unfruitful and repetitious modes, it more often than not is able to sidestep these issues on the strength of Lopez’s voice alone. It’s an intimacy that is a privilege to explore.