Nestled within the fields and forests surrounding Oslo you’ll find Raaja Bones. There, in Raaja’s secluded studio surrounded by vintage synthesizers, modular equipment, samplers and drum machines, is where he makes music that owes as much to his personal tastes as it does his identity and upbringing. ‘Black Dreams’, released 2nd July on Snorkel Records, is where this venn diagram of influences overlap, from the shimmer of e-funk and the effortless grooves of soul to the unashamed, heartfelt honesty of 80s pop.
Raaja was born in Norway. As someone growing up in that part of the world, metal formed an integral part of Raaja’s youth, but over the years his tastes diversified. He discovered the back catalogues of indie labels like 4AD and Sub Pop and played East Coast hip-hop in his bedroom. Then came Kraftwerk and his introduction to electronic music.
As he explored disparate genres, his beginnings as a music producer mirrored the same journey. He got hold of a drum kit, bass guitar and an amp and started a band at age 10. Aged 11, he bought his first wah-wah guitar pedal, sparking a love affair for manipulating sounds in real-time. He got his hands on an Akai S2000 in 1994 to replicate the hip-hop kicks and snares he was hearing on records and, in the process, discovered that all he needed to become his own orchestra was the right equipment.
Naturally, what he creates today is an amalgamation of his past. But they weren’t born solely from musical discovery. Rather, through the places he once called home. He started school in Honolulu and gained an appreciation for the tranquil, Balearic sounds that mirror life lounging by the sea and strolling on the sand. He later attended high-school in mid-90s Baltimore, discovering the joy of sequencing, synths and samplers as the Bmore scene was taking off, before spending his 20s between Liverpool and London.“My influences are an amalgamation of all these places, people and music scenes,” he says.
These inspirations first came together in 2019 on a selection of recordings called ‘Sleepwalks’, an album that saw Raaja explore a confused, dreamlike state of self-exploration through melodic soundscapes from granulated samples and trip-hop rhythms. ‘Boardwalks’, a six-track EP released a year later, is Raaja’s self-described ‘life is a party’ album, a carefree record of bass-heavy bedroom slow jams that sound as if they’re sweating through the speakers.
‘Black Dreams’, released on 2nd July through Snorkel Records, is the final chapter of Raaja’s three record storyline. It’s honest, at times reflective, an album recorded through times of despair and of great love that forced Raaja to reflect on his past and, ultimately, find his groove in the present over ten tracks.
Its title track is an embodiment of these opposing forces, seeing Raaja serenade ‘I want to see the colours’ over fragmented drum patterns and rich, lush tones, a juxtaposition between his past trials and future hopes. There are moments of ‘Hold Me Like You Mean It’ that glisten with shimmering synthezisers and squelched bass through a 3-minute ode to lovin’ and being lovers, while ‘How You Will’ is a slo-mo, smooth as silk milkshake jam that’s almost genetically engineered to provide Sunday morning healing.