Wallflower: New Sound, New Problems

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Jordan's Rakei's Wallflower, a follow-up to his debut LP Cloak, marks a shiftboth instrumentally and thematicallyaway from his previous material. Released September 22, 2017, Wallflower strays away from the use of electronic instrumentation that characterized much of his earlier material in favor of live arrangements and a lyrical tone that feels more isolated and fragile.

In the first track, “Eye to Eye,” Rakei’s vocals meander over an overly-repetitive guitar riff, creating an atmosphere that would have been both desolate and intense if it had not lasted so long. At around two minutes into the song, the band finally kicks in, producing a quite notable moment that features a sinister bass line augmenting Rakei’s heavily layered vocals. However, this section that is initially so striking quickly becomes borderline annoying, with Rakei alternating between short verses and a repetitive chorus before finally resolving with an unsatisfying and spacey instrumental outro. Moments like these starkly contrast the bold, neo-soul tinged moments that distinguished portions of his earlier work, such as “Blame it on the Youth” off of Cloak, or “Street Light” from his Groove Curse EP.

“Chemical Coincidence” struggles with many of the same issues, with Rakei meandering a bit too much in each section of the track, delivering melodies that aren’t quite noteworthy enough to carry those slower sections. “Hiding Place” has a similar problem in that it feels as though it never really progresses fully, simply alternating back and forth between a set of passable but not fantastic motifs. While these songs aren’t remarkably terrible, they aren’t striking either.

Nevertheless, there are a number of occasions where Rakei really shines on this album. “Clues Blues” begins with Rakei singing in a cadence that is reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s in “Bad Religion,” only to then hit the listener with a gutsy brass-centric interlude that flows right into a catchy verse. Rakei finds some of his old swagger here, layering his vocals in a clever harmony, crooning lines like “Waiting for worlds to end, but that don’t keep me up at night/No stress, no pain, no cause, no shame/No one to please, no time to waste.” This song clearly shows the potential of Rakei ditching his more electronic, R&B-tinged sound in favor of a live band; there’s simply so much (excuse me here) ass in that brassy bridge between verses that it is impossible to fully condemn Rakei for shifting his sound to something more jazz-centric.

“Sorceress” is another standout track, with Rakei’s fragile repetition of “you are the sorceress” throughout the chorus illustrating the depth of the pain caused by the person that he is infatuated with. Rakei’s vulnerability is quite believable on this track, the gorgeous instrumentation complimenting his delicate singing. “Lucid” features one of the album’s most memorable hooks, with Rakei flexing his vocal ability, powerfully delivering lines like “I was scared and unaware/Moving out of darkness/Darkness/I was trapped in the flesh/Moving out of darkness.” Again, sections like this one make it difficult to fully write-off the darker, isolated tone of the album.

Overall, Rakei’s vocal performance is strong throughout the album, even if some of the melodic ideas that he delivers are a bit lackluster. The production is stellar and it is clear the album was arranged with care, but Rakei tends to drag out certain sections just a bit too long. This being said, there are some excellent tracks on here—provided that the listener is content to wade through a bit of fluff to get to them.

Rating: 6.8/10

 

Key Tracks: Sorceress, Clues Blues, Nerve, Lucid

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