Raaja Bones trades the stuffy confines of his cabin retreat for what sounds like the USA’s west coast on his latest for Oslo label, Snorkel records. Boardwalks finds the reclusive figure abandoning the claustrophobic sounds of 2019’s Sleepwalks for a record that relinquishes the fir trees and babbling brooks of Norway’s mountain ranges for something that stretches between the ocean and the sky, where Raaja Bones welcomes the first rays of a summer sun across six shimmering tracks.
Very little is known about the artist behind the music, except that he’s been sequestered behind an arsenal of vintage synths somewhere within the forest around Oslo. A cassette released last year, via Olefonken’s label, showed an artist adept at creating scenic sonic landscapes from the vintage sonic palette of synthesisers and drum machines. If it’s not a known artist hiding behind an alias, it’s somebody that has worked in the profession for some time. Sleepwalks showcased a proclivity for electronic sounds, which has laid the groundwork for a new EP (or mini LP if you prefer) that is sure to dominate the sounds of this season in Oslo this year, even under the circumstances.
Raaja Bones disengages with the droning, experimental vignettes of Sleepwalks for a record that channels those sonic machinations into charming pop pieces, bristling with upbeat melodies and persuasive rhythms. Harmonies move languidly across synthetic atmospheres, as keys glisten in the upper hemisphere of pop music through an infusion of bubbling beats. Raaja Bones lends his ghostly vocal across the record in an abstract mirage that floats between soft falsetto and disembodied growl through the course of the record, with lyrics often as an indefinable silhouette to the musical accompaniment.
Working within the broad sonic scope of Oslo’s space disco traditions, the record draws comparisons to the album sounds of the genre where a track like Todd Terje’s Preben goes to Acapulco reside in peaceful splendour beyond the demands of the dance floor. Nostalgia and mood coalesce around Raaja Bones’ music, transporting the listener to some imagined island paradise through the record. Carried on the sound of its elastic kicks, snappy snares and harpooning bass, Boardwalks goes from the toe-tapping introduction of Dates on Skates to floating on the soothing sororities of Silver Bird before veering completely left on the enigmatic rhythms of Moons Unite.
Melodies coaxed from cobwebbed synthesisers travel like ear-worms between tracks, bouncing through lazy bass ostinatos in compositions realised like beatific pop songs. While elements like the odd time signature of Moons Unite and the curious vocal treatment dotted across the tracks does offer something unique for a more discerning listener, Boardwalks’ appeal lies completely on its surface. Like swinging to and fro in a hammock on the breath of an island breeze, Raaja Bones eases us through the record in a blissful tranquility.
It’s the slight variation between the individual tracks that instills a distinctive mood across the record, with memories of summers on sandy beaches and sweltering climates coursing through the songs. There’s the humidity of his sound transferred from Sleepwalks, contrasting the crispness of Raaja Bones’ production, but it seems lighter in the arrangements than its predecessor. It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to experience the feeling that Raaja Bones relays through music in a tangible way, any time soon, so Boardwalks comes as a timely compromise… a veritable sonic journey to an exotic paradise; an imagined holiday for a time of closed borders and grounded planes.