REVIEW: Jordan Rakei - Cloak

Laura Kerry

Jordan Rakei’s Cloak is the kind of album that you’ll want to spend time with. And as a double LP, it does necessitate that time, yet none of the nearly one hour of listening feels at all like a chore. The debut full-length of the Brisbane, Australia-born, now London-based musician, the genre-blending work is polished, ambitious, and completely delightful. It's hardly believable as a first go at an album.

In many ways, though, the accomplishment is unsurprising. The artist, who has played piano since he was young, has gained a following in his native country and beyond, earning radio play for his unique blend of R&B, hip-hop, and jazz; producer credits on a number of tracks; and a feature on Disclosure’s “Masterpiece” from last year’s Caracal alongside the big names of Miguel, Sam Smith, and Lorde, among others. Rakei’s soulful voice held its own against all of them.

Throughout Cloak, Rakei sings smoothly, wielding his voice like a well-practiced instrument, but without losing the slightly rough edge where emotion comes through. On “Snitch,” about things that go on behind our backs, he sounds empowered by anger (“Where’s the money / Where’s the money, mister?”); on “Rooftop,” he is quiet and aching (“I found love / Has this love even found me?”); and on “The Light,” he is euphoric (“Live today if only for one moment”). While he sings with the velvety softness of soul and the smooth, sultry textures of R&B, part of the vocal force comes from phrasings that Rakei borrows from hip-hop. On songs such as “Midnight Mischief,” “Lost Myself,” and “Sworn Enemy,” he sings conversationally, creating flow with his interesting rhythms.

Just as integral to the music as Rakei’s voice is the instrumentation. It's telling that in addition to rapper Remi and singer Ngaiirre, the other person whom the artist credits as a feature is Richard Spaven, a producer and drummer who provides the incredible percussion on one of Cloak’s most demanding but most rewarding tracks, “Toko.” Rakei's jazz influence emerges the clearest on that cut, but it crops up many places on the album, among the many other genres and influences that the artist strategically calls upon. “Theta State,” for example, mostly recalls funk and R&B, but he also uses an accent of psychedelic synths to capture the mind-expanding experience of drugs. No matter what the influence, though, every song is textured, thoughtful, and dynamic.

Cloak is Jordan Rakei’s first full-length album, but it also feels like a culmination of sorts—a realization of a career that has been slowly building in Australia and London. The artist, though, doesn’t seem to believe in culminations much. As he says about the album’s theme in a song guide for Faster Louder, “it’s always going to be OK as long as you trust the process.” Whatever Rakei’s process, hopefully it will bring more music like this.