“Heard she’s made of music / Ready for your ruin.” So goes a key line of Raveena Aurora’s ‘Rush’, the opening track on her second album and an almost conspiratorial wink of the self-embodied journey that is to come. A concept album in the most literal sense, she tells the story of Asha, a space princess from Ancient Punjab who travels through space and time to learn and disperse stories of personal healing after love and loss. If it sounds like a treatment for a feature-length movie, you should know that Disney would kill for a premise as fully-formed as this — the world she paints is vibrant but effortless, allowing her to dance around the beauty of her own creation as if these magnificent sculptures were merely there all along.
For an album that speaks of divine space and universe, a solid thread of earth-bound R&B nostalgia runs within. ‘Mystery’ feels like one for the Tumblr gals with its perky Solange-meets-Sky-Ferreira beat; ‘Secret’s blend of coquettish speak-singing and Vince Staples alpha-rap would have slotted seamlessly into the programming schedule of Timberland-era MTV Base, complete with a Raveena-directed video that demonstrates Asha’s “alien-like realm”. Back in the early ‘00s, any hint of Bollywood imagery or traditional Indian soundscapes in mainstream R&B were normally the result of misguided cultural appropriation; here, with appropriate representation, they burst forth with loving intention, weaving lush mantras as she communicates with a lover via cross-dimensional chakras.
Raveena isn’t an artist who merely nods to her South Asian heritage, but she actively centers it both lyrically and melodically, recognising how thoroughly many of its sounds are already embedded (and exploited) by Western popular culture. On ‘Asha’s Kiss’, legendary Indian songwriter Asha Puthli appears, assisting in a stunning sigh of a love song that is so delicate and peaceful that you find yourself inadvertently leaning towards the speakers to listen closer, too crude would it be to turn up the volume.
Bordering on the psychedelic, even the titles feel like cinematic poetry; ‘Arrival to the Garden of Cosmic Speculation’, ‘Love Overgrown’, ‘Endless Summer’. On ‘The Internet Is like Eating Plastic’, a therapist’s-office interlude that would make both The 1975 and Moses Sumney proud, Raveena is troubled by narcissistic conflict; “The internet has me stupid and smart at the same time / I’m of average intelligence / Maybe above average / But what is average anyways?”. Even here, she manages to sound ethereal, her soothing American accent floating above the problem in transience, knowing that it, too, will one day pass.
As the record dissolves into ‘Let Your Breath Become A Flower’, a gorgeous 13-minute guided meditation, the degree of self that she has brought to this project is admirable, the utter refusal to compromise or dampen any aspect of her identity in order to chase the status quo. Not a lot of artists of her stature would dare to go so conceptual, but, then again, not a lot of artists are Raveena. If this is an awakening, consider our attention well and truly captive; clever, confident, and utterly comforting.
- Release date: February 11
- Record label: Moonstone Recordings