Kelela Takes Flight on the Stunning 'Raven'

BY A. HarmonyPublished Feb 17, 2023

On the front cover of Kelela's Raven, the singer is submerged in a borderless body of water, her face just barely visible above the surface. Her expression is too calm to be drowning, her face too dry to hint that she's emerging from the deep. On the contrary, she looks like she's about to fall into it. 

That striking image is a harbinger of the music to come. Just like the water that threatens to engulf her, Kelela's long-awaited sophomore album is an enveloping ocean of sound for listeners to fall into. 

While it shares the same moody, ethereal feel as its predecessor (2017's critical darling Take Me Apart), Raven is less structured and more experimental than Kelela's last effort. Thanks to a host of producers who just "get" her, (chief among them the duo OCA and Berlin-based house DJ LSDXOXO), Raven is an immersive, atmospheric blend of dance, R&B, and touches of grime that all play nicely with Kelela's feathery vocals. On tracks like "Holier" and "Divorce," the album also reaches for an intangible, genreless sound that can't quite be described but is a pleasure to vanish into all the same. Sonically, Raven is delightfully cohesive — each song unfolds into the next, with expert sequencing and flawless transitions making the album flow forward in a way that grips from start to finish. 

While Raven isn't short on standouts, two particularly bright spots are "Let It Go" and "On the Run", and no, not because they happen to have been touched by two of Canada's finest (Toronto DJ BAMBII flexes her production skill on both tracks, while Montreal's Kaytranada joins the party on "On the Run"). "Let It Go" shines because of the quiet pops of fun '80s percussion that peek between its layers, while the thumping, seductive vibe on "On the Run" gives it instant replay value. 

Lyrically, Kelela is probing and introspective on Raven, making good on her promise that the album is an "affirmation of Black femme perspective in the midst of systemic erasure and the sound of our vulnerability turned to power." She touches on themes of heartbreak on "Let It Go," lust on "Closure," which features a saucy verse from New Jersey spitfire Rahrah Gabor, and mourning on the haunting "Divorce." There's also profound longing: on "Enough for Love" — the most radio-ready track on the project — a weary Kelela tries to pep-talk her emotionally distant lover into showing up for her the way she needs, while on "Raven," she touches on the cellular-level exhaustion that comes from fighting against society's many "isms" day in and day out.  

Raven's unstructured, experimental feel may be unsettling for some, but the project's only other downside is that eventually, it ends.  

Latest Coverage