There’s been plenty of speculation about Kelela’s whereabouts since her stellar debut album ‘Take Me Apart’ dropped in 2017, but the artist herself has remained tight-lipped. The R&B singer/songwriter first appeared like a chimaera when she debuted in 2013 with her genre-hopping mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’, before her cosmic 2015 break-up EP ‘Hallucinogen’ brought syncopated electronic beats to R&B alongside Arca (who’d go on to produce some of the tracks on ‘Take Me Apart’). Yet here, on her second album, Kelela moves into new territory: sonically with a new group of collaborators, and thematically from earth into water.
On ‘Raven’, DJ-cum-producer LSDXOXO and ambient duo OCA (Yo Van Lenz and Florian T M Zeisig) prove to be incredible assets to Kelela’s quest for innovative sound. LSDXOXO gets to work on the album’s stripped-back club music (‘Contact’), helping Kelela craft a somatic 4D-experience in the back of a psychedelic nightclub, complete with heavy basslines and downtempo shades that beg for communal end-of-the-night dancing. In Kelela’s more ambient turns, however, OCA loop in granular textures of water (‘Washed Away’) that allow Kelela’s crystal melisma to sparkle, crafting moments of serenity within the album that hone in on the power of healing.
In fact, the theme of water takes shape in various ways throughout ‘Raven’. Beginning with the opening lyrics which place her “far away, washed away” right through to the last moment (“the rain that pours, and the floody nights”), water’s ephemeral nature guides the listener. It works as a companion to Kelela’s questioning of the transient nature of life; how people, places and things drift in and out as surely does the sea. Whether it’s in ‘Closure’, where she pines over a new attraction, or in ‘Happy Ending’ where she mulls over an old love, connections that have come and gone are all part of Kelela’s journey towards feeling alive again.
It makes for a frequently breathtaking companion to ‘Take Me Apart’. In a debut album which was all about breaking down, ‘Raven’ reminds us of what it means to be put back together. Figuratively, we see this in the album’s continuous flow: a phone rings in the background of ‘On The Run’, only for the next song to be called ‘Missed Call’. ‘Fooley’ ends with electric reverberations crackling on the track and waves pouring in which carry us through to the beginning of the following track ‘Holier’, a stunning quasi-ballad at 0 BPM.
As the album progresses we travel deeper into the depths of water, until one of the last few tracks, ‘Divorce’, echoes the sounds of a submarine. By the album’s end Kelela is literally submerged, “far away” in the water and awash from the pain – ready to start anew.
Release date: February 10
Record label: Warp Records