What do you get if you cross R. Kelly with R.L. Stine? A lot of punctuation, and R.L. Kelly. The gal behind the moniker, Rachel Levy, tacked the (alleged) King of R&B’s surname onto her own initials in embarking on a solo project. She also portrays stories devastating enough to rival any Goosebumps book.
R.L. Kelly puts her deepest emotions into her music so that they don’t fuck her up. Don’t worry, it will fuck you up instead.
A Californian primary school teacher by day, Levy’s alter ego is a multi-instrumentalist who has featured amongst numerous collaborations – most notably as one half of Kiss Kiss Fantastic – before stepping out on her own.
As a long time contributor to Brooklyn label Orchid Tapes, she forged a lo-fi outlet to share her more personal battles. In terms only she could get away with; “I play guitar terribly, I play bass terribly, I fuck with synths, I can handle trumpet, I sing kind of.”
Levy is equally candid in sharing the fact that she started the project “to get all the sad, deranged, fucked up feelings” out before they could consume her. The first release of relief came with her debut EP, Life’s A Bummer in February 2013. Featuring six tracks of unadulterated honesty, it exposes the darker corners of the mind; the pain, loss and desperation we all experience at various points.
Levy manages to instil, however, an adorable aspect in the melancholy; from the minimalist cover of label-mate Alex G’s Change to the pensive soundscape of I Had a Dream Last Night. Within each track she combines personal darkness with uniquely beautiful sounds that achieve a peculiar sense of comfort.
Levy again melded with Alex G on a split EP, simply titled Split, a few months later. The two managed to facade their crushing subject matter with short and affective, hook-laden pop tunes. R.L. Kelly’s half deals with the nonstop mental battles of depression and anxiety, a continuation of her debut that is somehow more relatable yet just as distressing.
This is all in considerable contrast to her latest track Alright, which rises towards positivity, love and light, with triumphant harmonising and inflected guitars. Levy offers the realisation that even though life can often be a bummer, it can also be pretty sweet.
It takes some rather stunning composition to convey hope amongst lines as troubled as “Ask the voice in my head, ‘Am I okay?’ / She says, ‘Get out of my head.’” Whilst R.L. Kelly can’t bear to listen to her own yield because of the sadness it gives rise to, lilting guitar lines and layered vocals manage to do just that; creating music that is heart-wrenching yet warm.
Although having minimal online presence, let’s hope R.L. Kelly continues to gain attention for the beauty of her output, and it continues to lean towards the positive.
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