James Raftery – Everything
If you think synthesizers, loops, and drum machines suck the life out of anything musical, James Raftery’s work will correct such assumptions. The New York City based musician spent fifteen years working as Rat Wakes Red, a virtual one-man project with a succession of musical guest stars complementing his efforts, before branching out under his own name. The title track to his upcoming full length album, “Everything” is completely electronic except for Raftery’s vocal and those choices fail to take any humanity or physicality away from this performance. Instead, they help distinguish Raftery as one of the most distinctive musical artists working today and the sharp intelligence he brings to bear on a piece of this nature cannot be denied. This track never falls prey to self-indulgence and the brassy, attitude filled production compels you to keep listening and wondering where the composition might go next. Such daring is rare in the modern music world.
The insular nature of this recording is reflected some in its sound and composition. “Everything”, despite its electronic texture, sounds intimate from the outset and never strikes that pandering, club-pleasing vibe some might expect from this genre. The relentless drum machine pulse, despite its digital birth, has a perceptible swing humanizing the technological texture. The streamlined design of the arrangement keeps things moving at a healthy pace throughout and the music opens up in just the right ways to give Raftery’s vocals a chance to roam and move. There’s an pleasing juxtaposition between the musical arrangement and Raftery’s singing that never sounds like a poor fit; instead, the disparate elements come together to form a whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. The nearly four and a half minute running time of the track could have likely been trimmed a hair, dispensing with some ultimately needless refrains, but it is overall ideally tailored for Raftery’s artistic aims.
The lyrics are straight singer/songwriter stuff that finds a surprisingly comfortable home in this sonic environment. Raftery communicates with his audience with open-hearted vulnerability and a deceptively versatile voice capable of embodying the emotion behind the words, but it’s his keen ear for knowing exactly what words this song needs that sets it apart. Raftery’s vocals have a surprising amount of nuance; the same vulnerability in the words extends to his vocal tone as well with excellent results. There’s a slightly hushed demeanor he adopts for much of his delivery that strikes a memorable contrast with the song’s simmering electronics. James Raftery’s “Everything” takes enough risks to excite music devotees and has the needed accessibility to draw in those who normally scoff at the form. The entire package is here – this is songwriting with a strong sense of craft, art, and entertainment. Raftery doesn’t treat the song as an opportunity for a confessional of sorts; instead, he performs and gives deeply of himself through doing so. “Everything” is one of the most interesting offerings in this style in recent memory that you’ll hear and promises great things from this pending full length album release.