Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Kelela’s hypnotic and atmospheric journey Raven rewards patience


Release date: 10 February 2023
Kelela - Raven cover
09 February 2023, 00:00 Written by Sam Franzini

Kelela makes music you want to live in.

The alt-R&B singer dazzled audiences with shimmery and provocative jams on her 2017 debut Take Me Apart, its themes of love and sex over deep shuddering beats perfect to end up on many, well, intimate playlists. Her highly anticipated follow-up, Raven, is mostly a pared-down effort – mature in parts, but sometimes lacking the tension and charm she’s usually known for.

The clues were clear in its opening track, “Washed Away” – also the lead single – a hazy and enigmatic cut that takes a bit too long to get where it’s going. Some more low-key tracks like “Bruises” build up to something more and grow in intensity, but on spots like “Divorce”, which reads more like a sonnet, there’s little to grab onto. And the final track, a reprise of the first, makes for a satisfying callback, but isn’t different enough to its inspiration to warrant more than a few listens.

Her use of time and space is often puzzling – she forgoes the expertly paced Take Me Apart in favour of long stretches of stillness. After the buzzy, electric breakbeats of “Contact”, “Fooley” and “Holier” seem like dual interludes, where you’re waiting for something to happen (although the latter’s lyrics of self-preservation make it a little more interesting). The title track, though, is where her genius comes into play — after a long, droning alarm call that fades in and out, it transforms into a club beat where she sings of personal identity and her struggles as an artist. “The hype will waver / I’m not nobody’s pawn,” she sings, before the declaration, “And I can feel my body now.” It’s one of just a few tracks where the beat switches up and jolts the listener awake, along with the charming verse from New York rapper Rahrah Gabor on “Closure.”

Make no mistake, Kelela hasn’t lost her signature spark that makes her so enigmatic in the first place. Raven is littered with gorgeous, exquisitely produced songs that make her one of the best in the R&B field; highlights include the sultry, contemporary “Let It Go”, the intensity of “Closure”, or the spacey “Enough for Love”. Her experimentation, too, with UK garage/breakbeat on the propulsive “Happy Ending” and futuristic “Contact”, and its cries of “Oh, it’s a sauna / Here if you wanna / It’s 2 AM and we made it / Everybody faded” make it one of the most hypnotic songs on the whole album.

Most songs require deep, concentrated listening before they float away – and on an album a little over an hour long, it might not be enough to immediately grip one’s attention. Raven doesn’t feature much of the volcanic beats and unadulterated longing of its predecessor, but its minimalistic approach showcases an artist in the midst of her evolution.

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