Londoner Raf Rundell’s colourful, musical optimism cleverly fuses funk, indie-pop, soul and electronica in his latest project. Looking at the cover of his second solo LP - O.M. Days - it is unusual and intriguing. His new album contents are no less unorthodox, both in the style of music and the eclectic mix of collaborations involved.
Just after album number two was in the can, and he was emerging from his Forest Hill recording studio, Rundell himself professed, “How did that come from me?” Totally at ease in his DJ roots, Rundell as a lone musician, is somewhat more reluctant. Not in his output nor his ability, but in his own belief and recognition that he has produced another ground-breaking solo album.
Working from the outside in, let’s start with the story of the album sleeve. Ben Edge, the visual artist on Rundell’s 2018 debut album, Stop Lying, was again central to the artwork on O.M. Days. Dawson’s Hill in East Dulwich is an enduring piece of South London greenery that has managed to escape developers' ambitions. Folklore goes that ‘The Hill’ was named after a giant called Dawson, also affectionately & ironically known as the ‘Tommy Hill Figure’; both female & male, human & vegetation with a new earth growing in its womb. This painting by Edge is the icon that dominates the main wrapping of the LP.
One interpretation of the album’s title originates from ‘Operation Mindfuck’ - a 1970s counterculture movement by American writer & agnostic Robert Anton Wilson. Its chaotic premise contemplates the use of imagination and humour as the way forward for humanity instead of following any great plan or organised religion. Rundell refers to the current global shift as “the birth of the new - like a full stop to the way things were before.” He doesn’t go out of his way to get into the coronavirus debate in his music, but it's more of a recognition that it is simply one of the catalysts for change, a change that was always coming down the tracks.
The mellow beats of ‘More U Know’ are a gentle, ambient opener. Here, more than anywhere else on the album, you can hear the electronic influence of Rundell’s musical partnership with Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard in their duo, The 2 Bears. ‘Down’ has a funky, inventive, reggae style to it that accentuates the south-London narrative of Rundell - "Bout time someone put me...down / If you get caught with your trousers...down."
The first single from the album - ‘Monsterpiece’ is a dance-based outing with a 70s feel. The song features Blockheads guitarist Chaz Jankel to give it that extra layer of polish, and Rundell does his own take on Ian Dury throughout. The upbeat track is not without its message of struggle as an artist, relying on musical creativity as a livelihood. Rundell found himself completely out of work in 2008 after his record label succumbed to market pressures - “How high can you fly, in this world so unforgiving / How free can you be to make a life while you make a living?" A crossroads in his life that really propelled him into his work with Joe Goddard.
The dreamy and oceanic ‘Ample Change’ sees his south-London, hell-raising counterpart Lias Saoudi of the Peckham-based Fat White Family band make an appearance. Mercury Music Prize nominee Terri Walker’s soulful contribution on ‘Always Fly’ results in the standout song on ‘O.M. Days.’ Her vocals, combined with a magical riff, give this track a powerful, urban, R&B strut - “Can't let it own me, no I won't compromise", sings Walker. ‘Luxury’ has an early 80s playfulness and dark humour to it. North-west UK artists Man & The Echo give it a distinctly David Byrne-esque, manic twist - "I want my Playstation chipped and my moped derestricted."
The final three tracks are all of a similar ilk - chilled and easy-going. ‘The Ides of Albion’ has a breezy, Caribbean gospel texture to it - "We're running out of time, always drinking wine." Rundell’s mod-loving parents named him after the iconic RAF Roundel badge. In ‘Turning Tides’, there is a touch of the modfather himself, Paul Weller, on this one. Whereas the airy and hopeful ‘Butter Gold’ closes with American musician Andy Jenkins's loving tones.
Yes, with the diverse collabs on this release, you could argue that it lacks flow and cohesion. However, with the amount of innovation and craft displayed by Rundell, it is worth the imbalance. He brings an energy and creativity that is welcome and fresh with his opportunistic take on life’s challenges. On this showing, Raf Rundell doesn’t wallow in the current pandemic fatigue but sees these O.M. Days as a chance for re-birth and an opportunity to change.