Last September, an artist known as RÁJ had a track debuted by Zane Lowe on BBC RADIO 1, entitled ‘Ghost’. At the time, not much was known about this figure: his online presence was replete with cryptic Twitter posts, elusive interview answers, and images of himself which showed a middle-aged man largely cloaked in black, often with a scarf covering his face and a fedora hat revealing only a glimmer of his eyes. With almost no background information, RÁJ encouraged us to focus on the very thing we may often leave subjugated to an artist’s image: the music.
The music, however, was itself a reflection of his image, the center of ‘Ghost’ is a reverberated acoustic guitar with soft, fragile vocals, and slow, heavy drums leading to a catharsis of falsetto cries, electronic swirls, and sweeping strings. Minimalistic and dark, RÁJ ensured this was going to be a pop track without much ‘pop’, but fascinating and open-hearted in its own unique manner. It is fitting, then, that his latest track, ‘Let Me Love You’, both continues this tradition of evanescence while carefully allowing the listener to gradually understand him better. With its honest, sorrowful lyrics of pain and loss, the echoes of guitar and brittle vocals emphasizing that isolation, and a bass that rumbles heavily, ‘Let Me Love You’ becomes a natural companion to ‘Ghost’. RÁJ’s dark pop aesthetic continues to bewilder and fascinate. The slow buildup to falsetto calls of desperation (“Let me love you/‘Til it hurts”), distorted drums, and yawning strings is familiar when also listening to ‘Ghost’, yet is unlike many artists today who utilize acoustic/vocal pairings to detail their emotion. It is otherworldly, yet familiar; distant, yet relatable, the shift from a tender melancholia to one of a purgative nature marking a move from introspection to desperation itself.
While the video for ‘Ghost’ detailed a narrative of a female coming undone, LMLY takes a more biographical approach. At its surface, a man is walking around the streets of France in a bout of seeming wanderlust. This, however, not only helps to visualize the song’s themes (isolation, introspection), it also allows for a connection between artist and viewer. The song takes on a wholly personal dimension for RÁJ, allowing us to both better understand enigmatic figure, and to see him as inherently relatable. In turn, RÁJ opens himself up to a greater extent in establishing an ‘image’ for himself, yet the music is still (rightly) taking precedence.
Perhaps what the video most helps with is allowing us to finally understand what the mystery, intangibility, and ambiguity surrounding RÁJ and his music is all about: spirituality. As the track begins with the ringing of church bells, many of the proceeding images are of a mystical nature: the stained glass windows of a church; a crucifix; and various sculptures of who appear to be historical or biblical figures. RÁJ may thus be representative of somebody who is seeking guidance from a higher power or, perhaps conversely, is disavowing it through his own pain. These could alternatively be interpreted as attempting to come to terms with one’s own state of limbo. Whatever the case may be (and this uncertainty seems central to appreciating his music), RÁJ continues to only let us see fragments of the entire picture, which may be an extension of how he sees life itself. In so doing, this becomes some of the most open-hearted music in recent memory, and the continuation of RÁJ’s journey is one in which we should all participate.