The perpetually evolving realm of electronic music provides plenty of opportunities for sonic development. Electronica producers such as Benjamin Stefanski, aka Raffertie, are able to morph, bend and shape their sounds however they see fit, rooted within a club based aesthetic but free to explore all manner of sonic possibilities. An example of how a producer can gradually evolve and change their sound comes in the form of Raffertie’s long awaited debut album Sleep Of Reason.
In contrast to the hyperspeed sensory overload of his early material, Sleep Of Reason is the sound of Stefanski finding his voice as a producer and a songwriter. It’s a refined and nuanced record that pays heed to his roots but seeks to conjure new forms within an established realm.
The differences here are pronounced from his early EPs. The focus is very much on depth; the album is an exercise in expressing feeling and emotion, two things that were mainly absent in his earlier music. For Stefanski himself the album is deeply personal; the songs evoke childhood, love and personal relationships in a soulful and evocative way. Lead track Build Me Up provides a striking example of his musical volte-face, with the voice placed front and central. In keeping with the introspective mood of the songs, Stefanski has revealed a lovely luxurious croon. On Build Me Up he channels the 90s RnB sound of Mariah Carey as he pays an affectionate nod to the melodic hook of her 1993 hit Dreamlover. The result is a lovely sweet vocal led soul jam that is rich in emotion.
There are further intense soulful evocations. Rain is more hushed – sedated, even – but perhaps more alluring, with a distant crackle surrounding his voice and the sonorous piano backing. Known is allusive and ominous. Humming beats, arpeggiated guitar and a deep vocal combine to make an atmospheric piece of dark soul reminiscent of something from the last The xx album.
Sequencing is important here, and Raffertie has succeeded in creating a distinct mood that runs through the album. The first half features music that is strongly informed by club sounds and experimental electronica, as featured on the Kraftwerk-like dystopian synths of One Track Mind and the more obtuse, gnarly cut-up beats of the oddly bewitching Gagging Order. These two tracks represent a link between the old and the new, the battle between machine based electronic experimentation and organic heartfelt emotion.
Following these pieces of restlessly inventive electronica, the second half of the album ventures into even more diverse pastures. While tracks like Principle Action are amorphous and disconnected, the final two tracks Black Rainbow and Back Of The Line are less satisfying as they indulge in cavernous widescreen rock crescendos that are a little at odds with the understated dark future pop that has gone before.
In the middle of these distinct halves, though, comes clear album highlight Trust, featuring vocal talents of south London singer Yadi. It is the emotional core of the album, taking the form of an aching ghostly duet between the two voices. Amidst lullabying sounds the twin voices swell and recede gloriously with plaintive, touching lyrics: “It’s hard to look in your eyes and forget.” Songs like this immediately validate Stefanski’s decision to broaden his sound far beyond dance floor bangers.
Raffertie’s talent as a producer has never been in question. Sleep Of Reason has been a long time coming, but these 13 pieces of fractured soul represent a supreme triumph.