During my years and years of seeking out musical treasures far and wide, I’ve found that the discoveries I’ve made when I’ve least expected them have often become the most rewarding epiphanies. Case in point, the first time I stumbled upon Jordan Rakei’s Groove Curse EP about three years ago, its unassuming, yet flawless convergence of soothing soul and beat-heavy grooves instantly burrowing its way into my eardrums. If memory serves, I believe I have the one-and-only Gilles Peterson to thank for the introduction. Jordan. Rakei. I made a mental note at the time to check in on him periodically.
A more fully realized collection of atmospheric soul stirrers arrived in June of last year, in the form of Rakei’s excellent debut full-length LP Cloak. The ambitiously crafted album shined an even brighter light upon his proficiency and versatility as a songwriter, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and producer, solidifying his place as a musical renaissance man of sorts. Six months later in December of 2016, Rakei, under the adopted alias of Dan Kye, released the Joy, Ease, Lightness EP comprised of more dancefloor-driven fare, which only served to reinforce the power of his multi-dimensional gifts.
The latest offering in Rakei’s whirlwind recording spree, Wallflower is even more enthralling and enveloping than its precursors. Propelled by a noticeably bolder, more adventurous confection of soul, jazz, and electronic inspirations, Rakei’s sophomore album finds him embracing more acutely introspective lyricism coupled with a heightened commitment to sonic exploration. And the results, for the listener, are glorious indeed, as the sequence of songs unfolds as the perfect aural companion for late nights spent illuminated by the warm glow of city lights.
Rakei has cultivated a penchant for unconventional, non-linear compositions, incorporating unexpected pivots and mutations as his songs progress, and the shapeshifting album opener “Eye to Eye” follows suit. It’s an unequivocal highlight, surpassed only by the trio of exceptional singles officially unveiled from the project to date. Bolstered by the guitar handiwork of The Invisible’s Dave Okumu, standout track “Nerve” rides a steady bass groove and organ flourishes as Rakei reflects, “How can I find a reason to love you when I don’t love myself” in the chorus, demonstrating a fine-tuned self-awareness. “The song is about the concept of loving yourself wholly and truly before you offset that love onto others,” he explains in an official statement.
The stunning, multi-layered “Sorceress” finds Rakei again looking inward, examining how his egotism exerts control over his psyche. The slinky smooth, strings-laden “Goodbyes” explores unrequited love, vulnerability, and the emotional risks involved in “totally investing your love and energy into someone in the early stages of a relationship, but those feelings might not be reciprocated,” according to Rakei.
Other poignant moments include the somber, piano-driven “May” which captures the emotional weight of losing his grandmother, the jazz and dub imbued ode to reclaiming one’s youthful innocence on the funky “Clues Blues,” the dissonant, slow build of “Chemical Coincidence,” and the reflective title track during which Kaya Thomas-Dyke reassuringly encourages “don’t worry about your soul.”
With eloquence and grace in equal measure, Wallflower embodies Rakei’s distinctive, ambitious musical vision that seems to be far from achieving the peak of its power to surprise, delight and inspire. It’s an undeniable triumph of an album which may not sound the same with each subsequent listen, but still sounds sublime each and every time.
Notable Tracks: “Eye to Eye” | “Goodbyes” | “Nerve” | “Sorceress” | “Wallflower”