It’s a notably mellow week of new releases. Kelela’s Raven is minimalist and beautifully sung, while the Manchester Orchestra deliver a mini-album of restrained rock anthems.
There are some obvious parallels between Kelela and SZA, another alternative R&B artist recently featured in this column. Both released acclaimed debuts in 2017, but took a long time to follow-up, both only issuing their sophomore albums in the last few months. They operate in different areas of R&B – Kelela’s songwriting on Raven is less attention-grabbing, but it’s lovely with the smooth sound and vocals.
Kelela was born in Washington, D.C., a second generation Ethiopian American. She was a late bloomer, not releasing he debut album until her mid-thirties.
Raven is smooth and relaxing, even when it’s difficult to pick out highlights. The minimal approach is effective on the beautifully spare ‘Divorce’. The airy vocals of the album bookends, ‘Washed Away’ and ‘Far Away’, are lovely.
Raven is a lovely record – even when the songs don’t stick, it’s gorgeous.
The Valley of Vision
Manchester Orchestra’s 2021 album, The Million Masks of God, was one of my favourites of the year. The Atlanta-based group were able to inject emotional catharsis into their arena rock, while always feeling sincere. Their 2023 release, The Valley of Vision, follows a similar sonic template, albeit on the mellow side of their spectrum. But it’s a more curious project – it’s a mere 25 minutes and 6 tracks, and it’s accompanied by a short virtual reality film. Like A Million Masks of God, The Valley of Vision takes its title from a religious text. It’s named for a 1975 book of Puritan prayers and devotions, and was written in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
While it’s on the skimpy side, arguably closer to an EP than an album, it’s strong. Andy Hull’s voice is strong and unique – with a smooth lower register, and keening and emotive on the higher notes. He uses it to good effect on ‘The Way’, contrasting calm verses with a soaring bridge. The band accompanied The Valley of Vision with a short film – the below YouTube should jump to my favourite track (‘Letting Go’), but the video contains the full record, and allows you to change the angle of view.
It’s difficult to justify giving Valley of Vision an especially high grade, since it’s relatively brief, but it’s a solid chapter in their catalogue.