What We Call Life, the latest album by multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Jordan Rakei, finds him at his most intimate and introspective moments. It’s an undeniable testimony to Rakei’s prowess as both composer and performer, an accomplished artist not afraid of mediating between his electronic and acoustic influences to define his very own brand of soul and alternative R&B.
“I wanted to hit my vulnerability barrier and be really honest.”
This is how Rakei described the meaning of“Family”, the album’s first single. The very same statement could be attributed to the whole LP.
What We Call Life is a dynamic, powerful and invasive work. Not in terms of production, sound or composition. Instead, it’s an album that lets us in on all personal demons that trouble the person behind it. We have all heard artists talking of how “personal,” “intimate” and “honest” their music is. More often than not, these descriptions come off as arbitrary and without any weight.
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Albums like What We Call Life, however, are proof that “honesty” and “intimacy” can be turned into notes. More than that, these notes could hit harder than any bass drop or blast beat, as long as they carry certain meaning.
In its essence, What We Call Life is a chronicle of Jordan Rakei’s reflections on his experience during therapy that lasted for more than two years. As such, the album touches on the most personal of thoughts and feelings. That is, the pain of divorce that is the same for all parties related (“Family”), the anxieties of unrequited love (“Send My Love”), the courage it takes to stop trying to escape from the past (“Runaway”), and the never-ending struggle with inner guilt (“Clouds.”)
These themes aren’t hidden beneath deep layers of complicated lyricism. Rakei lays them on the table for all the world to see and he does it in the most upfront manner. And this heads-on delivery, that could otherwise be too-straightforward-for-its-own-good of a move, works perfectly in the context of the LP.
Because Jordan Rakei knows how to shroud his words and vocals with amazing music, creating a sonic texture that encapsulates them in their own little universe.
Rakei is as capable of a producer and instrumentalist as he is a sensual and heartfelt singer and lyricist. In What We Call Life he delves even deeper into his blend of alternative R&B and neo-soul that brought him the Songwriter of the Year APRA Award (as well as a deserved shout-out from Elton John himself).
It’s not an understatement to label Jordan Rakei as “one of a kind” (or one in a million, at least). There are not a lot of emerging artists that manage to subdue the desire to stand out in the name of creating a subtle, yet nuanced work of art. One that manages to be bold, daring and full of energy, while also feeling like it wouldn’t have been out of place if it came out forty years ago.
His jazz, blues and R&B roots can be traced to every single track of What We Call Life. Rakei is an avid multi-instrumentalist and tech-head. He doesn’t only know how to bring life to the traditions of his influences. More than that, he has the capacity to make them sound interesting, dynamic and reinvigorated.
That being said, however, the most striking trait of his latest album is the manner in which he interweaves classical blues and soul with contemporary production and sound. As a result, what we get as listeners is a gentle collision of two opposing worlds that comes off as natural and wholesome as possible. These moments, such as the outro beat-switch in “Wings” or the dance chorus in “Send My Love”, is where What We Call Life feels alive and powerful. They elevate the album from great to special, and that is a big, big jump.