As part of the promotion for her latest track, Nuha Ruby Ra was asked by the PRS Foundation to put together a playlist which featured, amongst others, such diverse names as Billy Fury, Nina Simone, Thee Headcoatees and The Birthday Party. Reading between the lines, if there’s one thing that links these artists (and the many other acts cited as influences by Ra in past interviews) and her latest single, ‘Cruel’, it’s an ability to craft narrative in song form, typically with a dark tinge. ‘Cruel’, the latest cut from forthcoming EP How to Move, is perhaps even more darkly hypnotic than debut ‘Erase Me’, and sees Ra morph multiple genres into a singular whole.
Opening with a bass sound and vocalisation that most recalls the dark Swedish psych of GOAT, the track’s opening two minutes are compelling, if belying in what is to come. A middle eight bass breakdown, of sorts, breaks off the song’s first half, before Ra opens up her singing style in Siouxsie fashion and sax murmurings creep more prominently into the mix. By the time the whole thing has simmered and come to a boil, its instrumentation, replete with drum rattles and guitar riffs, has moved closer to free jazz. Ra’s backing band – Ian Wilson (guitar) and Julie Hair (percussion) of the similarly dreamy Isolation Society, Interpol’s bassist Brad Truax, and Vestments saxophonist Nikki D’Agostino – are an ideal ensemble to accompany her voice, which is by turns eerie, insistent and direct, overlaying itself with whispered incantations that pre-empt or echo lyrics and give the song the hallucinogenic feel of fantasy and nightmare. Its lyrics are clearly deeply personal to Ra, confirmed in social media posts which discuss the topics cited, with the imagery of isolation, bondage, self-sabotage and self-consciousness perfectly evoked by her unique vocal style.
Credit has to be given for Ra too for the accompanying video which, due to recent restrictions, was filmed, directed and edited by the singer in her warehouse workspace. Similar to the video for ‘Erase Me’, with its deliberately simple colour scheme, and holographic style of overlapping, its raw and (literally) stripped back styling reflects its creator’s willingness to lay bare her soul and her body for her art. Even just by her two singles, Ra is the breakout multi-hyphenate of the year: an artist, a performer, a musician, whose work is both self-reflective and self-reflexive, boundary-pushing yet relatable enough to carry along its listener. What follows will, no doubt, be fascinating.
Watch the new video for ‘Cruel’ here:
‘Cruel’ is out now. Listen on Spotify.