Raven – Kelela

The return of Kelela after nearly six years should feel like a surprise but Raven feels as if she had never left. The long hiatus seems to be partly a result of the pandemic and writer’s block but the time has also allowed her to refine the vision behind Raven. Speaking on the album, Kelela noted “I specifically want to speak to marginalized Black folk and highlight the work we do to find renewal in a world that’s built to make us feel inadequate.” Building upon the foundation she created in 2013’s Cut 4 Me and 2015’s Take Me Apart, the dance cuts on Raven mix minimal breakbeats and nebulous synths with garage and UK bass rhythms. Sparser than her previous work, Raven is a dreamier adventure as ambient passages slowly wrap around the shuffling drums. Kelela’s voice is far more laidback on the album as her glacial falsettos get punctuated with silky ad-libs. The atmosphere is the most crucial component of Raven as its stripped-down melodies contort slowly into dancefloor grooves.

Throughout Raven, there’s a hazy ambiance that drives forth the melodies. It’s remarkably thick, a smog of breathy reverbs that disappear into the depths of a darkened club. Kelela’s voice dances across the sidechained pulses, an entrancing performance that’s purposely drawn out with the fading synths. Raven excels in its buildups, locking in rhythmic pressure before releasing it at the climax of the track. On the title track, Kelela stretches her vocals of “Over the line, over the line” before it quietly jumps to a synthy breakbeat. “Contact” is one of the grooviest tracks on the album as the shuffling bass kick guides Kelela’s sultry lyrics of a night out ending with a lover at the back of a club. Quieter, ambient moments take hold on “Divorce” as the prolonged melodies dissolve into a bubbling SOS sound. The subtleties of each song aren’t prominent but the lush arrangements and reverbed vocals breathe life into the movements.

There are times that Raven can feel far too slow for its own good. Clocking in at over an hour with so little change in its melodies can result in the songs blurring together. “Holier” isn’t more passive than the other tracks on the album but Kelela’s vocal performance becomes predictable, and the result feels sluggish. The energy within the songs depend heavily on how Kelela experiments with her vocal range and melodies. If it becomes too routine, the sparse atmospheres can’t cover the lack of distinct grooves. The downtempo segments seem to frequently become too languid for their own good. When Raven plays to Kelela’s strengths though, it’s a phenomenal piece of work. There’s something enthralling about how little she uses to convey emotion and longing in her vocals. Though it thinly wraps around the synths, the refined texture of those harmonies becomes buried within the shadowy depths. Immersive through its purposeful restraints, Raven is a delicate glimpse under the surface of a neverending night out.

Must Listens: Happy Ending, Contact, Raven


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I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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