Origin is singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jordan Rakei’s follow up to his superb 2017 album Wallflower. Musically, it’s a vibrant and deftly blended mix of smooth jazz, classic soul, and cool funk with a sprinkling of 1990s R&B and hip-hop. If blending all of those disparate elements wasn’t ambitious enough, Rakei also ties the songs on the album around a single unifying theme – that of our slow, submission to, ever more intrusive, advancements in technology.
As a result, lyrically, Rakei casts his net a little further on Origin, drawing on his wider anxieties and fears about the effect technology is having on the human experience. Fortunately, these broadly dystopian themes don’t detract from the wonderfully vividly rich, hook-laden songs as Rakei wrenches himself clear of his comfort zone to dazzling effect.
The opening three tracks on the album are nothing short of stunning. Opener “Mad World” keeps things simple as hand-clapped percussion, swirling electronics, soulful vocal loops and simple piano chords offer a contemporary spin on a classic soul sound. It’s the perfect frame for Rakei’s dreamy, soulful vocals that drift in as if carried by the wind.
“Say Something” quickly locks into a groove as a stuttering funk riff saunters its way through the mix. It’s a dizzying, soulful track with Rakei marrying tender vocal melodies and surging electronics as his warming vocals flow through the mix like smooth, liquid chocolate. As with all of the songs on the album, while it’s easy to get swept up in the sweet, soothing melodies, scratch the surface and there is a deeper, more urgent message contained within. On “Say Something” Rakei emphasizes the importance of saying how you really feel and not leaving anything unsaid. (“Speak up if you wanna fight it / Don’t think you can’t describe it.”)
“Mind’s Eye” is another neo-soul masterclass with Beau Diakowicz’s beautifully nuanced guitar playing zigzagging through the mix. As the melodies and rhythms gracefully rise to the surface, Rakei skims the best of them off for a stunning, singalong chorus that sinks deep into your subconscious. Even more remarkable then, that the song is a pointed warning about the dangers of technology infringing on our personal space and allowing online corporations an open door into our innermost thoughts and feelings. (“Playful at least, I’m hoping / Show you the doorway to my soul”).
“Rolling Into One” manages to take the best 1980s soul tune you can think of, sprinkle it with a little ambient jazz and then coat it with a smooth layer of contemporary pop. Once again it’s a colorful, bright, and breezy tune with a deeper meaning, as he tries to reconcile his fears about the rise of artificial intelligence (“I’m looking on the bright side / While they wreaking the havoc”).
On “Oasis”, Rakei sounds genuinely lost and vulnerable (“I’m scared / I’m finding this Lonely”) as his gentle vocals find support in an emotive lead guitar line. Soon a flurry of drums guides the song through to the chorus where a captivating vocal hook is waiting around the corner, ready to wrap its arms around the listener in a warming embrace. The debut single from the album, “Wildfire”, beguiles with Rakei’s crystal clear, jazz-infused vocals really given the chance to shine.
With its squelchy, funk keys and taut electronics, “Signs” has a real classic 1990s R&B vibe while on “You & Me”, he knits together modern electronic touches with classic, organic jazz instrumentation. When the parts lock together, the backing has the nuance, subtlety and deft touch of an established jazz band in full flow. The highlight, though, is Rakei’s incredible piano playing as he smoothly caresses the keys, wringing as much emotion as he can from every note.
“Moda” is a quirky, off-kilter gem while on “Speak”, Rakei adds plinked and gliding strings on a relatively low key piano ballad. Once again, it serves as a masterclass in refined production as he lets every element gently bed in. Closer “Mantra” is exactly that – a floating, spiritual sounding track that slowly hypnotizes with its repeated, atmospheric loops. As the vocal melodies dance and weave like fireflies, Rakei makes room for a stunning sax solo to end the album on a positive note.
Origin is a rich, intoxicating listen that benefits from Rakei’s clear, succinct vision. In effect, the desire to challenge himself to write a more thematic, conceptual album has encouraged him to write more immediate, more impactful songs. The result is a remarkably accomplished album that offers more with every listen.