The album I have been waiting for is finally out; Kelela’s second album Raven is here. In the months before the release, Kelela dropped five singles that displayed the change in tone for this new era. Her first album had more of a pop/r&b feeling, with tracks ranging from fast-paced to slow jam. In her new era, she goes ambient with influences of Black electronic music such as drum and bass, jungle and Baltimore club.
I’m really obsessed with the parallels Raven has with Sade’s Love Deluxe. Both took time away from music to focus on themselves. Then they returned with albums that were more downtempo in their sound while exploring themes about being surrounded by bodies of water. The album cover of Kelela’s Raven portrays her partially submerged in water, while “No Ordinary Love,” the lead single of Love Deluxe, portrays Sade as a mermaid out of water looking for her lover. I understand the symbolism because, what can be more calming than the shifting of the tides, right?
Speaking of tides, the message of the album has a lot to do with the push and pull that comes with attraction of relationships. It can feel like you can be so close with someone, but at the same time you’re drifting like two ships passing each other. The song Washed Away” (one of my favorite songs on the album btw) really feels like waves washing over you on the seashore. The main mantra is her saying “far away” like how it feels like when a lover is being emotionally distant. Happy Ending is another example of the tidal nature of relationships with her and the person she’s singing about wanting to be together, but they’re not seeing eye to eye. The cherry on top is her singing longingly over breakbeat (two things I love very deeply). Let It Go is more of a downtempo song with a really fun bassline that feels somewhat like Sade’s Paradise. She’s singing of a lover that’s a bit wishy-washy and she has to chase after them and when they are together it feels like they’re pushing away. On The Run definitely feels like a struggle in a relationship in contrast with Kelela’s calm and warm vocals on this bittersweet song. Here she sings of a lover that won’t open up to her and tries to act tough, while she’s tired of dealing with stoicism when she wants them to be more loving.
Missed Call is one of my top 5 on Raven, it’s really introspective and she paints a very vivid picture with the vocals. She’s split with her lover, but is contemplating on falling in love with them again.
The next song Closure featuring Rahrah Gabor is definitely top 3 for me. It’s just so sensual, fun and makes you want to get up and also get down (I feel a wide array of emotions about this song). The best part for me is Rahrah Gabor, like if I heard this playing at a party I would absolutely start screaming the lyrics, it’s perfect.
Speaking of perfect, the next track Contact is my absolute favorite on the album. I love UK garage and the way when the song starts the beat absolutely hits you in the face is very cathartic I will say. The lyrics really feel like an anthem for club-goers as dancing and losing yourself in the music can take you away from the mundanity of daily life. Kelela knows herself as anyone else trying to stay alive these days that life and relationships can be difficult and the club can help with that. My favorite lyrics of the album are from the song “Loneliness I see in your eyes,It might just render you blind,Been getting harder these days,Contact we just have to make”. Life and what it brings can be isolating, but the music and people you love can take you away from that.
The next tracks Fooley and Holier slow the album back down to the ambient feeling present at the beginning of Raven. Holier is a song for people who are in the process of healing. She sings so calmly about being hurt by a lover, but reassures herself by going to people who she knows that are on her side. Kelela is not allowing her past lover to take her back to a dark place and I love that for her. Raven the namesake of the album is her proclamation that she is reborn regardless of the problems she had encountered in the past . This is one of the more experimental tracks with her singing over a repetitive siren and as she sings she becomes more intense. She belts the music shifts into a hard hitting trance-like beat to Baltimore club as the song transitions into Bruises an anthem for those who can’t seem to get away from those they are trying to avoid. Sorbet is definitely the most sultry song on the album, many users on Twitter have made comparisons to the song Warmth by Janet Jackson which with their voices and the feeling of the song are similar in nature. Sorbet feels like satin sheets and warm sun as the sun is rising, she really is channeling Janet Jackson’s sensuality in this song, as it also sounds like it would not be out of place on The Velvet Rope. Divorce is an interesting song as it takes a bit from Bjork’s Joga with the intro. I really like this nod as Bjork is a big fan of Kelela and it’s kind of a shout out. This is a very water sign song, she sings of feeling like she’s drowning because of the difficult nature of the relationship and wanting to start fresh with someone else. The second to last song Enough for Love is her declaring that she’s had enough of the love or lack of it that she was receiving from the past lover and Far Away is a reprise of Washed Away and the way its closes out makes it feel like she’s healed from this chapter of difficult love. The album is a story of the quiet loneliness that comes from being a loving person in love with someone who is emotionally closed.
To say I love Raven is an understatement whereas, I’m more obsessed with it, the sound and the story it tells with its different chapters, I can’t get enough of it. I have seen some people prefer her first album Take Me Apart to this one, but for me I think Raven is my favorite. The narrative and her writing really stands out for me as she describes the loneliness that comes from distant lovers so well. It just speaks to my ambient music loving hopeless romantic heart. She seamlessly mixes different genres pioneered by black queer musicians into one album about breakups and solitude. I loved the change in tone from her first and second albums as you can see life has changed her a lot in the past five years.