I played a mix of all my favorite albums from this year at a party a few weeks ago, and L’Rain ended up being the crowd favorite. Something about the swirling and looping of beats and drums and vocals grabs your attention without you even realizing. This record has been called experimental, though in all honesty there couldn’t be a more perfect representation of rhythm and blues, given its striking melancholy. The structure is unexpected, sure, but the music moves a different part of you. L’Rain was a product of cosmic cruelty, and it remains a peerless depiction of grief.
Taja Cheek has gone by many names in the Brooklyn noise scene, using L’Rain for her most recent project. It is a nod to her mother, Lorraine, who passed away while Cheek was creating the 9-track mixtape, as she describes it. The music is not a progression of time like Vulnicura, nor is it a portrait of emotion like Carrie and Lowell; instead, it ended up being a all-too-real exploration into pain and catharsis. Cheek wanted to examine grief as a concept, and after she had begun to develop songs, suddenly she had her own grief to deal with surrounding her mother’s death; this also brought on guilt. “It’s almost like I caused her death in some way — the feeling is absurd, bigger than myself, a premonition,” she told Afropunk.
This eerie and heartbreaking story behind the making of the album comes through in clashes of minor chord progressions or in lonely, distant voicemails. On tracks like “Stay, Go” and “Benediction,” field recordings flourish from simple demos into colorful melodies. The meandering nature of the songs can seem unbalanced individually, but the sounds on L’Rain cannot be properly interpreted outside of the whole. Cheek told V Magazine that “Bat” is nostalgic, though it begins with sounds from a wilted carnival memory. Also, her birthday greeting is joyous and pure, that is, without the context of dissonance from the preceding track, “Go, Stay.” Without explicitly proving its anguish, this record still feels unsettling.
In an interview on Talk Music Talk, Cheek and host Boice discussed listening to sad music and where this mixtape fits. Recalling a past interview he had done, Boice mentioned that immersing oneself in “sad music” is actually a good thing: “You can feel less sad in sharing that [feeling] with someone who understands.” On L’Rain, we do share in her emotion, but Cheek clarifies, “It’s a celebration of sadness, or the matter-of-factness of sadness and joy and how those two things are impossibly intertwined.”