Previously a go-to remixer for the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Wild Beasts and Wolfgang, a grimey dubstep whiz kid and a student of classical music, London-based singer/producer Benjamin Stefanski, aka Raffertie, continues his chameleon-like career approach by venturing into avant-garde electro-soul for his full-length debut album, Sleep Of Reason.
Inspired by a childhood growing up in a remote English coastal town, the majority of the album’s thirteen tracks inevitably make for an insular and desolate listen, whether it’s the ominous sci-fi drone of opener “Undertow,” the train-track rhythms, ice-cold synths and anguished cries of “Last Train Home” or the hushed maudlin lullaby of “Trust.”
Raffertie’s relentless misery-wallowing might come from a deeply personal place, but there are times when Sleep Of Reason sounds like it’s aping someone else’s blues. The eerie sound effects and off-kilter piano chords of “Window Out” could easily be an out-take from James Blake’s impenetrable debut, while the shadow of The xx looms heavily over the echo-drenched guitars and slow-motion beats of “Rain” and “Known.”
However, when the 26-year-old adds a pop edge to all his doom and gloom, the album wakes from its slumber. Joining in with the current renaissance of 90s R&B, “Build Me Up” is a clever interpolation of Mariah Carey’s “Dream Lover” which combines the original’s sunny melodies with a thick fog of swampy electro beats and elasticated synths.
The most uptempo number, “Touching,” perversely provides the record’s biggest emotional impact as Raffertie admits to an obsessive love over a tetchy blend of two-step garage and solemn church organs. Elsewhere, “Principle Action” blends the pitch-shifted witch house of the in-vogue duo he helped to discover, AlunaGeorge, with an array of tribal chants that appear to have escaped from The Lion King soundtrack.
A couple of late excursions into widescreen post-rock suggest Raffertie will once again change direction for album number two. But in the meantime, Sleep Of Reason is a solid, if sometimes derivative, attempt to present himself as a bleak and introspective soul crooner.