The Brooklyn artist returns with a swooning, genre-crossing album that raises the question: are we ready for change?
Three years ago, the Brooklyn-based artist, who also splits her time as an associate curator at MoMA PS1, recorded her debut self-titled album about grief in the wake of her mother's passing. Through her music, the New York artist gracefully explores her curiosity about the treasurable, nuanced and at times unspoken emotions humans are capable of experiencing. The question dealt with in her second album, Fatigue, concerns the gift and curse of our ability to change. The subject is confronted immediately in the album's opener, "Fly, Die" where after a brief moment of silence, air horns blare and instruments barrel in with the force of a restless crowd. With an accusatory finger, vocalist Quinton Brock chimes in to ask, "What have you done to change?"
Cheek embraces but also fears the inevitability of metamorphosis—our perpetual dance of ebb and flow. "I was born naked into this world," she coos as instruments erupt into a crescendo in "Blame Me," evoking the same momentousness as a newborn's first gasp. In "Kill Self," an underwater guitar stumbles erratically as she describes a scene in which she gnaws on her skin, nurses her wounds and grows the skin back. Just when the path to healing looks promising, all hell lets loose, and she nibbles off the skin again.
This shapeshifting trickles down to L'Rain's compositions themselves. Having grown up on the musical stretch of road that is Crown Heights's Eastern Parkway, Cheek has always been surrounded by the array of Black genres that give the neighborhood life, such as jazz, hip-hop and Afro-Carribean music. The sounds across Fatigue exist within a similarly knotty vortex (which she even admits to being unable to stylistically define) of shoegaze, neo soul, jazz, Thundercat-reminiscent soft rock and ambient.
For some, diaries might hold some of life's most precious memories, but for Cheek, field recordings are employed as a primary means of archiving her life. This was seen in her debut album, where one memorable recording captured a church service on the street, and another documented an intimate voicemail. Facets of her life wiz by in these mere seconds, but within this short span of time lie some of the album's most beatific moments. A hand game is explored, for example. A roommate puts on a raspy voice in order to sing a made-up song, a child has a giggling fit. In "Walk Through," Cheek's moony falsetto wanders as she plucks her guitar then abruptly stops. She laughs—she has made a mistake. As "Find It," a track about doing the best you can with your resources, winds down, we are offered a look into a rapturous moment with a gospel choir. Tambourines rattle with vigor, vocal harmonies swell and a drummer lets loose like he's engaging in a private conversation with God.
Cheek's vocals are versatile, often soaring into her upper register, then trickling into lower notes. Much of the lyrics across the album are a challenge to make out, but it's a delight to pull scattered meaning out of the obscurity. In "Take Two," L'Rain's voice billows over syllables like chiffon, transforming her anxieties ("I am not prepared for what is going to happen to me") into a visual swirl of mystery.
Birds twitter throughout "IV," a lullaby that appears dreamlike on the surface, but closer inspection reveals the intrusive thoughts of an artist grappling with a cruel bout of jadedness. How does one persist in their craft with only meager pay, she queries. It's a conundrum familiar to even the most successful and established artists of our time, but she expresses this frustration with existential dread: "Can't will haunt my wills as bills pile into singing coffins," she sings.
The question of our readiness for change is posed to us individually, but from a wider lens, it can be deemed as a societal quandary too. With centuries of oppression, systemic violence and neglect of the most marginalized trailing behind us, are we prepared to fight for something new? L'Rain seems to maintain hope, and I'm on board, too.