Boomkat Product Review:
Silken and surprisingly sunny, Kelela's long-awaited third full-length distills her ineffable essence into poetic, horizontal lyricism over murmured afterparty bumps and gaseous post-club ambience.
It's on 'Missed Call' that "Raven" begins to fully unravel. A very different album from its predecessor (2017's universally acclaimed "Take Me Apart") it hums like sulfur after a firework display - pink and green and blue becomes grey and yellow. When a near-invisible airhorn punctuates the fade-out of 'Let It Go' signaling a fresh mood, it's the memory of a fleeting high that's all but slipped away. A featherlight dancehall thud underpins Kelela's gossamer vocals; "Baby, you've been gone for so long," she coils and we hear it, loud and clear. The DC-raised artist has always shied from convention. On her debut "Cut 4 Me" she embraced Night Slugs and Fade To Mind's gaseous club construxions pre-empting (and informing) a wave of similarly-angled soundalikes. Its follow-up bundled these ideas into a more ambitious album format, leaving an aesthetic breadcrumb trail that led to both "Homogenic" and "The Velvet Rope" and wider stardom seemed pretty much guaranteed. But shortly afterwards she almost completely vanished from social media, taking the time out to breathe and read and listen and to figure how to represent her reality authentically - she did what so many artists struggle to, and took stock of the situation. So that first balmy pad that hovers into earshot on 'Washed Away' is a sharp release of breath, as if someone's just pressed play on a dormant CDJ. "The mist, the light, the dust that settles the night," she cries over a backdrop that threatens to mutate into Drexciya's 'Andreaen Sand Dunes' but never does.
Where its predecessor was guided by Jam City, Bok Bok and Arca's byzantine dancefloor anomalies, this album pulls its energy from alternative spaces. Kelela's revealed that 'Contact' - an aerated breaks-led kiss that sounds like 'Inner City Life' with the heat cranked up and the speed pulled right down - was dedicated to chatter speckled pre-gaming, and the psychedelic-erotic moments in the club's darkest crevices. Other moments, like the sunbleached, 'Teardrop'-hued 'Fooley' or 'Holier', with its drowsy electric piano reverberations and evolving drones, sound as if they're lashed to the experience of the afters, when the sun's cracking thru the curtains and noetics weave tired minds into mystickal, musical lattices. She's still plugged into the club experience, but is able to provide a more four dimensional perspective, and this time it's NYC-to-Berlin techno pin-up LSDXOXO whose presence is felt most prominently. He handles a handful of ambiguous club-not-club melters, like the soaked and dissociated 'Bruises' and the phantasmagorically nostalgic early single 'Happy Ending', while Nguzunguzu's Asmara adds a breath of polished restraint to tracks like 'Let it Go' and 'Contact', and Toronto head Bambii provides a hopeful pulse that draws from her hierarchy-free understanding of club music, whether it's baile funk and ballroom or footwork and rap.
Kelela's first full-length was a mixtape - a decade later she's absorbed its lessons and some of that pacing into a body of work that speaks to the club experience without attempting to function simply as club music. If a track like 'Missed Call' works at the dance it's a bonus, not an expectation - it's music whose purpose is chameleonic, hissing through crackly earbuds on bus rides just as well as it blares through expensive soundsystems amalgamated with chaotic substitute rhythms. She also smartly acknowledges the omnipresence of downtempo shades that encircle the scene, looping in textures and granulations from producers like Berlin's Yo van Lenz and Florian TM Zeisig. On the title track, soft-focus analog purrs from London's Fauzia guide Kelela's acrobatic voice into distorted FM bells and, in time, a Basement-ready kick roll from NYC's Acemo. Kelela straddles two worlds, letting her words serve as the bridge between memory and experience, the event and the essential aftercare. After 'Enough For Love' rebuilds the '80s electro-ballad as Afro-Brazilian-inspired R&B, with decadent keys placed between sounds from São Paulo's Badsista, 'Far Away' floats us off into the horizon - wherever that might be - washed over by a reprise of the weightless opener. Self-care is an awkward, leaden concept, but with "Raven" it sounds as if Kelela's suggesting an equally transportive alternative - a place where interaction can lead to satisfaction, even love. Keep your guided meditation, this is healing music.