by BellaJoli Gedeon
With the popularity of rave culture re-emerging since its heyday, new viral dance hits have also gone mainstream. To find the hidden gems, some nightlife enthusiasts embrace spaces that replay the eclectic, avant-garde tracks celebrating identity. At the moment, recent success from Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter, Kelela, highlights the black, queer reclamation of electronic music subgenres. Returning after a five year hiatus, her second full-length album, Raven, marks a period of renewal, demonstrating emotive stances deep within its experimental and R&B glory.
Kelela consistently delivers subtle yet captivating lyrics, which have amassed over her decade-old career. The first track from Raven, “Washed Away,” reads poetically. Her soft, ethereal vocals aligned to soothing synths remains hypnotizing even after the track ends. The fade-in kicking off “Happy Ending” also invites a thrill, as it was one of the singles teased prior to Raven’s full release. While Kelela announced her upcoming tour last December, the early introduction to “On the Run” and “Contact” proved the album to be a promising project for old and new fans alike.
As a team of masterminds, Kelela and her collaborators bring about mixes that blend house, drum ‘n’ bass rhythms overlining sonically ambient tones. Even “Let It Go” balances melodic layering and seemingly disarranged beats, attesting to their capability to make a structurally complex track come together. The use of repetitive phrases, most prominent at the end of “Closure” and the later tracks of the record, creates an alluring echo effect – but the title track, “Raven,” transports listeners back into reality to acknowledge the vulnerability of Kelela’s words, especially “Through all the labor / A raven is reborn / They tried to break her / There’s nothing left to mourn,” leaving listeners to grapple with the weight of its heaviness.
Intertwining with a well thought-out theme of longing, water in its multiple forms symbolizes her driving force to persevere throughout the record. In “Missed Call” Kelela sings, “Float away, float away on a river into the sound / All the way, all the way through my body kissing the clouds,” a hazy, dreamlike phrase that feels cathartic. With “Divorce,” Kelela also impresses with the soul-baring line “Under the surface, I’m lying / Fighting the time, now I’m drowning.” To accentuate the concept, the album cover for Raven depicts Kelela nearly being submerged under water, something she references in multiple tracks like “Fooley.”
Raven represents Kelela anew since sharing her debut album, Take Me Apart, but underneath there also lies a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation. Still, the record keeps listeners grounded and in high spirits, moving along to dynamic moments of intensity. From start to finish, each track offers an insight into Kelela’s inner world, one that has been rapidly changing since her start in music. As Kelela continues to make her mark within the dance scene, Raven surely will ignite excitement in the crowds.