|Album Review: Jordan Rakei – Origin|
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One of the most powerful traits of music is its ability to reflect society. Not only can the right song provide solace to an individual in need, it can also shed light on societal trends in wholly unique and hopefully entertaining ways. Jordan Rakei's new album Origin checks each of those boxes as he delivers weighty themes about a dystopian future within the realm of his endlessly soulful musical aesthetic.
Origin presents a significant step forward in the New Zealand-born Londoner's burgeoning career as he grapples with the anxiety of technology's ever-increasing presence in daily life while trying to maintain a sense of hope for the future of humanity. Rakei rides the line between those feelings throughout the album as he offers sci-fi-tinged lyrics that are often cryptic and begging for more exploration. The music, meanwhile, remains upbeat and accessible, representing a palpable sense of perseverance. The album beautifully depicts Rakei's search and attempt to reclaim what makes us human in a time when many of us let it slip through our fingers.
Rakei goes on a journey through the 12 songs as he explores the dichotomy of technology and humanity, beginning in a place of anxiety that eventually leads to peace. The opener "Mad World" sets the stage for his discomfort in the modern landscape. His lyrics describe our tendency to be drawn away from our humanity: "Hide away from the moments that make us / hide away from the streets / for me." Even amid his angst-ridden words, the music has momentum with a resilient pulse, powerful piano chords, and a soul clap that keeps the heartbeat alive throughout.
If "Mad World" represents Rakei's realization and declaration of the dangerous path society is on, the following track "Say Something" represents his call to action. Over a head-nodding, riff-based groove, he emphasizes the importance of speaking out about societal issues. In one of the more salient moments he sings, "Now they take our memories / it's up to us to say / it's not too far gone / it's not too hard to say something." While his words are couched in the narrative of technology, they are never overtly specific, making them applicable to any social injustice.
The next portion of Origin features more examples of Rakei's clever blend of brooding lyrical themes with endearingly vibrant music. "Rolling Into One" has a groove that is ready for dance floors as he sings about perseverance. On "Oasis," his vocals take center stage with a narrative of a lonely but determined traveler. The body-moving music continues with the afrobeat-tinged "Wildfire" and thumping grooves on "Signs" which also features some lush vocal harmonies from Frida Touray.
While the first half of Origins finds Rakei establishing his viewpoints on society over medium tempo grooves, the back end of the album sees the music evolve along with his perspective. As his outlook becomes more hopeful, the music opens up stylistically as Rakei delves into more experimental musical terrain without sacrificing accessibility. The first major signs of the shift show up in "You & Me," where Rakei hints at a more positive future with the lyrics, "It's all in my hands to find a way / to lead me out of this place / for one last final time." The song also loosens its structure with a dazzling piano solo toward the end.
On "Speak," Rakei continues to break out of previous songwriting conventions for an intimate performance with a gorgeously lush string orchestration. As one of the only tracks on the album without any percussion, the song emphasizes the sophisticated harmonies in the strings that perfectly support Rakei's expressive vocals. He delivers resilient lyrics that set up the celebratory finale "Mantra." His words, " We can see clearly now / I'm forcing my way out" show his readiness to face the aforementioned negativity.
"Mantra" has a heartwarming recipe of repeating vocal chants, soft percussion, and warm horn lines that gradually blossom with energy and infectious positivity by the song's end. While maintaining Rakei's tasteful songwriting, the track completes journey toward a sense of inner peace. He shows no signs of turning back into the darkness as he writes, "I believe in something special / I believe in trust / I believe in us / I believe in my tradition / I believe there's love / I believe in us."
In the way that artwork sheds light on societal trends before the masses are aware or ready to hear them, Jordan Rakei's journey on Origin seems a likely path that many of us will eventually traverse if we haven't already. In a world where technology and artificial intelligence show no signs of slowing, it will become increasingly important for us not to lose our sense of humanity. With his deft songwriting and astounding musicianship, Rakei reminds us that while that battle will be challenging, the elements of trust, tradition, and love form the roots for human life and they will always persevere.
Origin is out now on Ninja Tune. Stream or buy the album here.