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Raven Fred Garratt-Stanley , February 6th, 2023 09:18

Synth-driven dancefloor dreaminess from a versatile singer shifting beyond her R&B roots

Documenting the various stages of a passionate, pained relationship in reverse chronological order, Kelela's 2015 EP Hallucinogen was a landmark release that placed her at the vanguard of a new wave of dark, inventive R&B experimentation. Capturing hearts and minds across the globe with an enticing, sensual blend of synths, soprano vocals, and spacey, soulful pop innovation, the US singer quickly became a unique voice within an exciting, upwardly-mobile scene. So, when following the release of highly-acclaimed 2017 debut album Take Me Apart, she all but disappeared – for years – it came as a surprise.

As a result, the anticipation surrounding her second studio album has been intense. But that sense of pressure had its toll; Kelela's first moments back in the recording booth were stunted, "rusty," according to a recent The Guardian interview. You wouldn't guess it from listening to Raven, though. Recorded over a fortnight-long period in Berlin, the 15-track record is rich with invention, a deeply immersive experience that skips between UK garage and 2-step, jungle, breakbeats, and more, ultimately paying tribute to dance music's Black, queer roots. Across the album, Kelela transports her enticing part-electronic, part-R&B sound to new spaces, opening with the glittering, reverb-drenched pads and soaring vocals of lead single 'Washed Away' and moving through a number of dancefloor-indebted cuts, such as the mellow, dancehall-tinged rhythms of 'On The Run' and breakbeat-fuelled 'Happy Ending'.

The former track is a standout moment on Raven. Produced by the impressive team of Bambii, KAYTRANADA, Kelela and Yo Van Lenz, its instrumentation glides softly. Kelela's captivating vocals take centre stage as she presents herself in solar form: "Open up babe, to the sun / Open up babe, we ain't done / Come on and touch the rays." The muffled phone ring sample that turns up at the end of the track suggest Kelela's come-ons may have done the trick…

Other party tracks comes in the form of recent single 'Contact' and the driving, jungle-infused 'Missed Call'. The album's more upbeat tracks capture its defining mission, to put forward an transportive sound evocative of being on a packed dancefloor, expressing yourself fully and feeding off those around you. 'Contact' encapsulates the hedonic thrill of the club experience while also leaving space for more contemplative moments as Kelela puts forward words such as, "Time is surreal / Now I'm floating in outer space."

Mingling dense, synth-filled R&B melodies and the funky skanks of tech-tinged, breaks-heavy dance beats, the connecting thread that binds Raven is twofold: the visceral feeling of a night out, expressed beautifully through the glossy, soaring soprano vocals that have become Kelela's hallmark. By embracing the rich heritage of Black, queer dance music and adding a splash of her own magic, she's created a genuinely captivating record. It's a seductive sound – one most definitely worth waiting six years for.