New Zealand’s Jordan Rakei has enjoyed a rapid ascension into the spotlight since he first moved to London in 2015. Having released debut EP ‘Franklin’s Room’ in 2013 from the confines of his Brisbane bedroom studio, he began to garner an influential following. Moving to the UK to widen his creative horizons, following his first label-released EP, 2014’s ‘Groove Curse’, Rakei soon linked up with the likes of Taku, FKJ and Disclosure, featuring on the latter’s 2015 album ‘Caracal’.
His debut LP, ‘Cloak’, released last year, was a polished offering of non-quantised, soul-swinging numbers, showcasing a songwriter who had fully established himself beyond the ‘bedroom producer’ label. Tracks like ‘Tawo’ and ‘Lost Myself’ effortlessly combined polyrhythmic jazz sensibilities with the warmth of live studio instrumentation, leaving space for Rakei’s gentle falsetto to speak his emotive message direct to the listener. Now, having signed to Ninja Tune, Rakei is set to release his second LP, ‘Wallflower’.
With the move to a larger label comes a grander sound on ‘Wallflower’. Yet, a richness of instrumentation doesn’t necessarily translate to dynamic intensity, instead Rakei employs his vocal harmonies and multifaceted arrangements in the service of a quiet, soulful significance. Opener ‘Eye To Eye’ sets the scene with its soft acoustic guitar and vocal slowly ascending into an ominously jarring chorus, subverting listener expectations for a continuation of the breezy soul sound established on Rakei’s EP releases.
This propensity for finding darkness in an arrangement is partly due to the inspiration behind the album’s composition. As suggested by its title, the work is an exploration of anxiety and introversion — so often experienced by artists whose life is occupied in performance. Lead single ‘Sorceress’ addresses this theme through personifying the ego, building a sense of its enthralling nature through Rakei’s vocal harmony and looped refrain, luring the listener into a trance-like state at the rhythmic repetitions of the chorus.
On following single ‘Nerve’ the groove-based backbone of Rakei’s sound returns with layered guitar plucking and a languorous bassline reminiscent of earlier tracks like ‘My Time’. The rhythm section continues to lead on ‘Goodbyes’ with its intro of streaking strings and rock-solid drums, while Rakei’s time spent producing dancefloor productions under his Dan Kye alias can be subtly felt in the warped synth backing of ‘Chemical Coincidences’ and the electronic arpeggios of ‘May’. Similarly, featuring on drummer Richard Spaven’s most recent album, ‘The Self’, has encouraged a fluidity in timing, creating the chopped flow of jazz horn number ‘Clues Blues’ and the half-time feel of ‘Lucid’.
Perhaps owing to the solipsistic nature of the record’s themes, much of the album stifles its groove in a downbeat weight. The slow momentum of tracks like ‘Hiding Place’ and title track ‘Wallflower’ can come across as overly insistent on balladry. Instead, Rakei is at his best when combining his knack for mid-tempo groove with a new maturity of personal expression. At only 25 years-old, ‘Wallflower’ is the work of a young man confidently and openly exploring his creativity, belying his age in placing sincerity before convention or commerciality.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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