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A vinyl of Kelela’s album ‘Raven’. Laying on a surface of water.

The cover features a desaturated render of Kelela with jet black skin, with her face partially submerged in water.

I’ve sat on this review for so long. And even as I posted this, I was still asking myself ‘Should I even post this?’. Because every single time I listen to this album, my opinion on it changes slightly, because of something in a song which reveals itself to me in a way it hadn’t done the last time I listened to it. But I just had to [Turns and looks into the camera] let it go, because how I feel about the album generally doesn’t change. And one of the themes of the album is the art of knowing when to just let things go and allow them to be. So I had to allow myself to just do that.

And as for how I feel about the album generally? Raven is amazing. And Kelela is just in a whole different stratosphere artistically.

What began to unfurl for me after the singles “Happy Ending” and “Contact”, was that Raven was actually a follow up to Kelela’s remix album TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES and not just the studio album, Take Me Apart. And I would recommend to anybody who is either new to Kelela or fans who perhaps haven’t checked out TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES to treat it like it is a mainline album, because it bridges a gap between Take Me Apart and Raven in a way that I’ve never known a remix album to do. Remixes albums are usually throwaway releases, but not here bitch. And it speaks a lot to who Kelela is as an artist that this is how it is. Everything Kelela puts out has a purpose. An intention. There’s a story to be told in everything. But nothing is ever the same for long. A song could mean one very specific thing to Kelela at a point in time, just for her to revisit it and something else in it; creating a need for her to act on that and allow the song to take on a different form. Much like feelings. And Raven as an album speaks to this notion of reframing and seeing something in a new way. Because Raven is about love and reconciling with your feelings, just as Take Me Apart was. But Raven represent the processing of these things from a different space and time in life.

A desaturated screenshot of Kelela from her music video for "Washed Away". Featuring a shot of her stood on the shore of a beach, looking out, wearing a white dress.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

Kelela wears her heart on her sleeve and is quite literal in how she presents her feelings through song. One of the core themes of Take Me Apart was finding your way to that place of feeling bare and no longer hiding. Allowing yourself to be emotionally naked, despite how unnerving it can feel. And then dealing with the struggle of trying to hold everything together when it’s falling apart; watching everything fall to the ground in slow motion in a state of helplessness. One of the core themes of Raven is finding stillness. Oneness. In order to fully process what is happening in and around you, so that you can move through situations from a place of understanding, as opposed to misunderstanding. And watching everything fall to the ground in a state of calm, almost as a form of ritual of letting it all go. Because you know once everything shatters and the dust settles, that something new will come of it. Something will be reborn. And all that was will be washed away. Take Me Apart was about the need to be. Raven is about the importance of letting things be.

Thematically Raven is really interesting, and I guess the song title is the clue; speaking of Kelela being literal. Because the person in this story is not the same one in Take Me Apart. It represents the person Kelela had become since then. The chronicles of a new personal journey. Not only are we following the new person Kelela has become when it comes to navigating relationships, but we are experiencing Kelela being acutely aware of the mistakes she made back when she was where she was on Take Me Apart, and doing the work to not fall back into that place and make them again. By the time we hit the penultimate song “Enough for Love”, it’s like Kelela is having a conversation with the person she was before; which creates this great full circle moment by the time we get to “Far Away”. We’re gonna get to this. Because, WOW bitch. What a song.

One thing about the Kelela we get on Raven, is that she is far more patient with her lovers, whilst also respecting her own needs and desires. Take Me Apart Kelela was always in a state wanting answers. YOU GON’ LOVE ME OR NOT? WE GON’ BREAK UP OR NOT? WE GON’ ARGUE OR NOT? YOU WANT DIS PUSSY OR NOT? YOU LOVING ME AND THIS OTHER BITCH THE SAME, OR WHAT? Where-as Raven Kelela is very much in a place of ‘This is where I am at. This is what I am looking for. If this aligns with you, cool. If not, then it’s also cool.’ On Take Me Apart, Kelela seemed to love being in love, but was constantly in a state of fear of being hurt by it. Kelela also seemed to encounter instances where she realised that people can be in love with one another, but have very different views and approaches to love. And this is what makes love such a piece of shit. It can be beautiful, but it can also be frustrating. Because it looks and feels so different to each and every one of us. And when we are with somebody who sees love differently to how we see it, it can either be the best thing in the world or the worst thing in the world, or a combination of the two. And no matter how well skilled you are when it comes to navigating relationships, there is always going to be hurt involved. It’s an inevitability of love.

In Take Me Apart, Kelela loved love, but was also afraid of it. But she was also afraid of dealing with the fallout of it. This resulted in her staying in situations which weren’t ideal, out of fear of the heartbreak, even though in some cases she was staying in relationships where her heart was already broken. Kelela followed her mind and not her heart. Where-as this time around, Kelela doesn’t fear falling in love or having her heart broken, because heartbreak is proof that you were able to love, and Kelela sees the beauty in this. There is a realisation that she is strong enough to survive a broken heart and that the love she has for herself will always be enough to mend it. She can place her heart in the waters and repair it anew.

Everything on Take Me Apart was about the dissolution of love and everything falling apart. Whereas Raven is about finding love for yourself and celebrating your wholeness separate from somebody else. But always knowing that you will be okay no matter what. As long as you don’t lose faith in yourself and faith in love. And there’s always beauty to be found in the journey. Because even when something doesn’t work out, it still works out.

A desaturated screenshot of Kelela from her music video for "Washed Away". Featuring a shot of her walking across a salt lake at the Danakil Depression, in a white dress and a headwrap with a long train.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

Despite how moody Raven sounds compared to Take Me Apart and TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES, the colourless album cover and the damn album title being Raven, this is actually an album about joy. It can take a few listens to find it, but it’s there. When I first listened to Raven I remember being taken aback by how dark it sounded and how isolating it felt. But then the more I listened to it, the more I found the flecks of light in the music and the joy in Kelela’s journey of allowing herself to love and choosing to put herself first. Raven isn’t about darkness. It’s about being the piercing light in that darkness.

The beauty and the elegance of the production and Kelela’s voice on Take Me Apart distracted from how so many of the songs were fraught with tension. Where-as Raven it’s kinda flipped. The darkness of the sound can distract from how much light is in the songs and the better place Kelela is in emotionally. Even on the album title track, which is probably one of the darkest sounding songs on the album, it is still joyous. Because the music is a soundtrack to a rebirth and somebody finding power in the knowledge that the hardships they have overcome has made them strong enough to endure what lies ahead, and that we should all just dance the pain away and let it go.

Take Me Apart felt like watching a drama and living for the mess, but also remembering the times you yourself were in messy situations. Raven feels far more cathartic. As you’re witnessing somebody, or maybe even a version of yourself, navigate love from a place of enlightenment, but still learning lessons about themselves. Learning what it means to love and to be loved. And to not just allow yourself to be loved, but to know your own worth when somebody comes into your life who is only willing to meet you halfway, because they won’t surrender to love out of fear.

The saying ‘If you ain’t gon’ love yo’self, how the hell you gonna love somebody else’ has become a bit of a cliche thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race. But it is absolutely true. Raven is an album about how to love yourself. And the sense of oneness Kelela has with herself and her feelings translates into how the album sounds. Raven on the whole is a very ambient sounding album. Almost meditative at times. The experience of listening to this album is like floating in an expanse of water and being free.

A desaturated screenshot from Kelela's music video for "Enough for Love". Featuring a close-up shot of water in a swimming pool, as it rains down.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

Water is a huge theme of Raven, which makes a lot of sense. Ravens are seen as representations of transformation and guidance, as is water. Water also being a representation of stillness, renewal, rebirth. And the ways in which water can connect us with not only the wonders of earth and life itself, but how it can connect us with ourselves. Water is something which is ever present on Raven. Not just on the album cover and in the metaphorical sense, but literally too. Sounds of water can be heard on multiple songs, usually in the transitions between them. And there are numerous mentions of water as a noun and in an adjective form i.e. “Washed Away”. But with Kelela being one to follow through and always carry things forward, the water motif also feels like inheritance from the project Aquaphoria, a collection of songs she put out with producer Asmara, on which water was also a recurring theme.

And I can’t talk about water motifs without mentioning the songs which open and bookend the album, “Washed Away” and “Far Away”.

When “Washed Away” was first released, I adored it. It wasn’t what I expected Kelela to release as a lead single, but that’s Kelela for you. But I always got the sense that it would hold some relevance to the album in some way, because of how intentional Kelela is. There was a reason she wanted this song to be the first one we heard from the album, despite it not being an obvious single choice. There was a reason why the music video was what it was. Then Raven released and it all clicked. “Washed Away” was already gorgeous, but “Far Away” is on a whole other level. Every time I listen to it and the bass and modulation hits, I start fucking crying. It just sounds so beautiful and evokes this feeling of release. Of letting go. Of complete and utter freedom. But it also feels like a theme of rebirth and renewal, making what is basically a reprise of “Washed Away” such a great way to end the album. And I wonder which of the two versions of the song came first. Because something in me says that “Washed Away” may have been born out of “Far Away”. There is something about Kelela’s unpolished vocals and the lack of refinement in the synth work compared to “Washed Away” that leads me to believe it may have come first.

There are different ways you can take “Washed Away” and “Far Away”. “Washed Away” is about the act of letting it go, whilst “Far Away” is about having let it go. “Washed Away” could be about the act of laying your harbouring feelings and hurt to rest, with “Far Away” being a song about mourning them in order to truly move on. It could also be about rebirth. Raven starts with a rebirth, there is rebirth throughout the album and then it ends with another in “Far Away”. Because life really is living through constant states of rebirth and renewal. It isn’t something you just do once. Not if you’re truly living life and allowing yourself to be open to all facets of it. And even if you feel you aren’t yet in a place to let things go and bask in renewal, “Far Away” makes you feel hopeful that you one day will. It’s just a stunning song, which makes you want to listen to Raven all over again. And because the album ends sonically similar to how it started, the album itself is cyclical.


Dis bitch really does think of everything.

A desaturated screenshot of Kelela from her music video for "Enough for Love". Featuring a shot of her laying on a beach, as the tide comes in and washes over her.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

But whilst renewal, mental wellness and love are the cornerstones of this album, sex is a cornerstone too, just as it was on Take Me Apart. And the cool thing about Kelela’s approach and attitudes to sex is that it’s the one thing which hasn’t changed from Take Me Apart. Regardless of love, Kelela still enjoys it. But as per her feelings, Kelela still demands a level of honesty with whomever she is engaging in it with. Even if it’s just a one night fling, she wants that person to give themselves to her in that moment, in order for her to do the same. And Kelela is very up front about her intentions. Her wants and needs on “LMK” are the same as they are on “Contact”, but they’re from a different place. On “LMK” it was from a place of ‘So you gonna just stand there and stare at me or you gon’ take me home?’. On “Contact”, it’s more ‘If you’re not gonna make your move, it’s cool. Because I’m here with my girls. And the club is full of ballers and they pockets full grown. So I’mma be leaving with somebody.’

But it’s not all transactional. Where-as “Blue Light” on Take Me Apart was the sensual freak nasty song of the album, Raven has “Sorbet”. Janet Jackson during her Virgin Records days would be proud of Kelela. Take Me Apart already reminded me massively of Janet and “Sorbet” does the same. The song is downright sexy. It’s such a sensual song. And as has become a trademark of Kelela’s, the production of the music and her vocals come together in such harmony to create a vibe which is so specific that there is a mistaking it. This right here is a song about some fucking.

Raven Kelela is just like ‘Whatever’ because she knows she has her shit together in a way she didn’t before and there’s power in that. But she is also very aware that she is not invulnerable. Kelela has a different approach to her needs this time around. And Kelela is realising that there are always options. Where-as Take Me Apart Kelela rarely ever saw anything else but that one person in a given moment. The idea that somebody else could desire her or love her didn’t seem like possibilities to her, even though in the back of her mind she knew this to be the case. Raven Kelela’s power is in her awareness of her own feelings and her ability to express them, even if the outcome isn’t necessarily what she wants it to be. Because she knows either way she still has love for herself. She can have a one night stand and still have love for herself. She can be with somebody who isn’t expressing the love she deserves and walk away from them and still have love for herself. She can fall in love and have her heart broken and still have love for herself. Raven Kelela is gonna choose herself every time.

A desaturated screenshot of Kelela from her music video for "Washed Away". Featuring a shot of her walking across a salt lake at the Danakil Depression, in a white dress and a headwrap with a long train.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

Whilst Raven very much still sounds and feels like a Kelela album, it is a completely different listening experience to Take Me Apart. The production on this album is very sparse. There is nothing here as dense as “Take Me Apart” or “Enough”, but the style of the production is similar. Kelela definitely has a sound. There are also a whole lot less lyrics this time around. Some songs feature a pretty standard verse chorus verse chorus structure. Where-as some songs only feature one verse (“Fooley”). Some songs are structured more like poems (“Raven”). So even when you are moving through songs which are sonically similar, the structure of the lyrics make them different experiences.

Take Me Apart really showcased Kelela’s ability to tell a story through song, as well as her ear for sounds. But Raven REALLY pulls this to extremes and exhibits a level of fearlessness that Kelela has when it comes to making music, which also mirrors Kelela’s emotional fearlessness from where she was before. There is so much space on this album, which may also be carryover from her experience of working on Aquaphoria. Kelela isn’t afraid to take her time. She isn’t afraid of punctuating songs with silence. It blows my mind how Kelela was able to listen to a piece of music like “Raven” and write anything to it. I don’t get how she heard the beatless music to “Holier” and said ‘I got this’. I don’t get how she heard “Washed Away”, put those vocals down and said ‘Yep, this is gonna be my lead single’. Kelela’s ear and sense of musicality makes me sick to my damn stomach. Because, the absolute nerve of this bitch to do what she did on this album with some of these songs. It’s crazy to me.

A zoom and cropped in shot of the rendered water on the album cover for Kelela's Raven.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

Kelela had mentioned that sonically Raven was the reclamation of dance music from a Black femme in a space where people like herself aren’t often seen or are continually side-lined, and you can definitely hear that. But it also feels like a reclamation of Black women having the freedom to express themselves musically how they see fit – which aligns with standout albums of the past year or so from Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe and Victoria Monét. I’d say that Raven, Jaguar II, The Age of Pleasure and Renaissance are all tuned into the same pussy frequency in this regard. And coincidentally a notable element of each of these albums are the song transitions. Each of these albums are meant to be played from top to bottom and in order. You’d be doing yourself and Kelela a grave injustice by not experiencing the transition from “Raven” into “Bruises”.


Kelela is showing that she doesn’t have to conform to a particular sound just because she is a Black woman or because it’s what is expected of her. The same way Beyoncé said ‘Fuck it. I’m reclaiming house and doing a gay ass dance album that’s Black as hell’. The same way Janelle said ‘Fuck it. I’mma make a queer ass summer fling album with reggae and dancehall at its core’. The same way Victoria said ‘I’m not giving you an album of ‘BOOOM-KAT-KAT’ songs, the way you always want us Black girls to do as though it’s all we CAN do.’ And it also feels like in some cases, Kelela deliberately went for producers and sounds which weren’t ‘R&B’, just so there is no ambiguity. Even though most will file this album under R&B anyway and we all know why.

The sound of Raven, in a way, also reflects Kelela and her journey of wholeness, because Raven pulls in from all of her releases. There are touches of Cut 4 Me, Hallucinogen, Take Me Apart, TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES and Aquaphoria. It really shows that Kelela doesn’t see her mixtapes, EPs or side projects as side projects at all. She sees them as bodies of work which inform what she does next, which makes me excited about how the Raven remix album is going to turn out and what her third studio album will sound like.

There is also growth sonically. With Take Me Apart it felt like Kelela revelled in the richness of production and music surrounding her voice. Where-as on Raven she chose to scale everything back. And there are even touches of Kelela exploring new sounds, such as the song “Let It Go”, which is one of the only songs on the album where there appears to be some form of live instrumentation, in the form of a bass guitar, and it adds a really nice texture to the song. It also made me want an unplugged album from Kelela, to see how she would reinterpret some of her songs with a band.

Kelela knows her sound. No matter how many producers are listed on her releases and across her releases, you listen to the songs and are like ‘That’s so Kelela’. And you can hear much she leans into this and has expanded her artistry from Cut 4 Me up until this album. Everything was leading to Raven.

A desaturated screenshot of Kelela from her music video for "Enough for Love". Featuring a shot of her from behind, stood on the beach and staring out at the ocean.
Kelela – Raven | Warp Records

Take Me Apart and its remix companion were so broad yet also focused in their sounds, that there was no way to predict how a second studio album from Kelela would sound. And given how Take Me Apart and TAKE ME APART_THE REMIXES both ended, Raven could have gone in any direction. And yet whilst Raven was a surprising turn, it feels like the only logical step that somebody like Kelela would or could take from those albums creatively.

Kelela manages to upturn so many different expectations with this Raven. Expectations some may have had based on her previous works. Expectations of her as a Black woman. Expectations based on the state of music right now. And she does all of this without seemingly trying. There is a meticulousness with Raven. Every moment on this album feels considered and intentional. But it’s never from a place of trying to subvert. To prove something. To be clever. Or to be different for the sake of being different. It’s all from a place of truth and how Kelela sees the world, her music and her vision for herself. She is just about allowing herself and her creativity to be. And a byproduct of this is not only a fantastic album, but a nudge to listeners to allow themselves the permission to do the same. To allow things to wash over you and just do what feels true to you. To be your own true love. And in this, Raven becomes more than an album about Kelela and her feelings and her journey. It becomes an album of self reflection for each and every one of us if we allow it be.

Squawk squawk bitch.

What Kelela pulled off and displayed on this album is nothing short of amazing. Her fearlessness in not only baring her soul, but her creative choices make Raven something truly special. This may not be an album which you saw featured everywhere like some others. But make no mistake that Raven is one of the best albums of 2023.

▪ Washed Away 🔥
▪ Happy Ending 🔥
▪ Let It Go 🔥
▪ Missed Call 🔥
▪ Contact 🔥
▪ Holier 🏆
▪ Raven 🏆
▪ Bruises 🔥
▪ Sorbet 🔥
▪ Enough for Love 🔥
▪ Far Away 🏆

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Album Review: Kelela – Raven