NYC’s Raia Was dives into her soul-stirring sophomore album ‘Captain Obvious,’ a cathartic and catchy record of raw emotion, real experience, and the human condition.
Stream: “What It Feels Like” – Raia Was
A record about seeing things as they are and saying what you mean and dancing a little as you do.
Warm and wondrous, intimate and vulnerable, Raia Was’ sophomore album is a rare glimpse behind the curtain.
It’s done up, yet raw, so you can see the human at the heart of the songs. The perfect imperfections shine through in her poetry and prose – aching reflections of life lived moment to moment, every second soaked up and every emotion felt to the fullest extent possible. Love; longing; heartache; insecurity; fear; escapism; self-doubt; desire; a litany of visceral feelings flow freely throughout Captain Obvious as Raia Was crafts a cathartic and catchy record of emotion, experience, and the human condition.
on my way back, ooh I know I roam
and I hide it but i love you
more and more and more
than i ever have before….
make my way back,
ooh I hope I’ve grown
and I fight it, I feel your accusations echo far
makes me wonder what you saw?
makes me wonder, and on and on and on
but if you’re asking,
I’m offering to get back where you are
yeah if you’re asking,
I’m offering the keys to my heart
– “If You’re Asking (I’m Offering),” Raia Was
Released October 5, 2023 via Switch Hit Records – a new musician-run cooperative record label co-founded by Was, Arthur Moon’s Lora-Faye Åshuvud, and Cale Hawkins – Captain Obvious is the culmination of a bold new era for Raia Was. The New York City-based artist, whose 2021 debut album Angel I’m Frightened was lauded by many and even landed a placement in HBO’s critically acclaimed show Euphoria, has reemerged as an experimental indie pop trailblazer, with recent singles drawing comparisons to artists like Weyes Blood, Mitski, and Kate Bush.
Was assumes duty of singer/songwriter and sole producer on her sophomore album, crafting a dark, ethereal, and atmospheric sonic identity that is at once seductive, soothing, and utterly singular. These songs have the capacity to stir you awake and sing you to sleep all in the same breath, but that’s the magic of Raia Was: She demands our attention not through shouts and bangs, but through softer eruptions and shiver-inducing whispers (though we have it on good authority that her shouts and bangs are just as good).
“I didn’t set out to produce this record alone – I thought I was prepping demos, I thought I’d re-record it all, and then the more I considered trying to change it the more I felt it would fall apart,” Was tells Atwood Magazine. “What binds this record is exactly its peculiarities and imperfections, and it was my responsibility to preserve that as a steward of the music. This was a big lesson for me, that a record is a snapshot of a moment in time and my job is to let that moment be. Not messing with that is as important as the moment itself.”
The album’s title is a nod toward a practice the artist adopted in recent years, to help “combat tunnel vision and increased anxiety after years of hyper vigilance around health and safety (aka living through a pandemic).”
Raia Was is Captain Obvious, and proudly so.
“Captain Obvious is a technology I’ve been using the last three years to cope with the feeling of losing my “ness” (my perspective, my sensitivity, my footing),” she explains. “It was an entry way back into subtlety from the blowout of anxiety, through the simplicity of the obvious – the lamp is yellow, the sun is spotted on the white wall – seeing things as they are, and then making music from that place. The phrase ‘Captain Obvious’ was initially a cue to myself to make what I know, to see things as they are, and say what I mean. It was a pretty heady and challenging practice for me, but the built-in cheekiness of the phrase “Captain Obvious” gave it the levity I needed to keep going. By the time the record was done, those two words had been so useful and central to the music, it felt like they had to be the title. And I’ve really come to love the phrase as a framework for releasing this body work – its familiarity as a trope sets up a whole slew of expectations for me to play with and keeps me from my all too cozy inclination toward taking everything so seriously all the time…”
While there is plenty of intent within these twelve songs, Was says she didn’t set out with any one theme or focus in mind.
“I have yet to go into the process of making a record knowing exactly what I’m going to make,” she shrugs. “It’s often more about improvising and experimenting until I start to sense a sonic palate forming. And that can also feel like a preoccupation with certain sounds or textures that keep calling me back. I’m definitely a music before lyrics person. I feel sound so deeply and it’s always about getting to something true in the music that can nudge the words out.”
Here when you call, giving my all,
but feels like you’re everything
or nothing at all.
You f with my heart, yeah
but it isn’t your fault.
And I’m testing the waters
but you want it all, say, want it all,
you really call me I really fall back on ya…
Money so I don’t, help me want more
money so I won’t, money worry.
I money worry, I money worry.
– “Money Worry!” Raia Was
The end result is, per Was, a “body of work about the big feelings inside life’s subtleties.”
Captain Obvious opens with hushed, hazy, and heated “What It Feels Like,” a beautifully brooding fever dream driven by anxiety and an overwhelming sense of doom. The song – which served as Was’ first single of the year – falls heavy on the ears, but it’s light on the soul: An intoxicating, hypnotic track, it’s thick like a fog – and just like fog, the closer you get to it, the clearer everything becomes.
The baby’s crying,
she keeps me lying to myself
and I can’t deny it,
run around thinking I’ll need
But what it feels like to know this
is nothing like being in love,
and is nothing like getting caught up,
is nothing like dying.
“I wrote ‘What It Feels Like’ about the experience of saying exactly what I mean – the moment of free-fall where I’m positive the world will end, I’m positive abandonment lurks just around the corner, and then… nothing,” Was says. “The world is just as I left it. I’m constantly seeking to give sound to what I think of as the ‘gray matter’ of life, the feelings and sensations that fill our days beyond the milestones and heartbreaks that define so much of our lived experience in the world.”
“What It Feels Like” sets the tone for a record whose cinematic and expansive sounds serve to highlight the artist’s brooding heart and bleeding soul. Highlights range from the charming, churning slow-burn “If You’re Asking (I’m Offering)” and the brutally honest, sonically lush insecurity anthem “Money Worry!” to the invigorating, smoldering, pure vibe “Give Up the Beat,” and the no-holds-barred, heart-on-sleeve upheaval, “Playing God Again.”
And all the ways I make my magical thinking
out of my head, out of fear, out of fear.
And I want, no I need
what I die for only hurts me.
And I fight it so hard, wear my heart out,
crying so long, day in, day out,
the right call but the wrong me
Yea here I go playing god again…
For Raia Was, the album itself is one massive, unforgettable highlight – not to mention a career milestone. It’s ultimately the humanity in these songs – their writing, their performance, and their production – that resonates the most for her.
“This is my first time heading up production on one of my own records, and the result feels very quirky and very me,” she smiles. “I’m proud of how much imperfection I allowed to live in the music (which is the thing that ultimately makes it feel alive!) – ‘If You’re Asking (I’m Offering)’ really has that feeling to me, also ‘Money Worry!’ And both of these are long songs that I just let stay long… it feels good to have stayed true to how those songs wanted to unfold and give them time to do it.”
Her favorite lyric comes from the album’s opening salvo: “What it feels like to know this is nothing like being alone, and nothing like being told that I’m wrong, and nothing like dying.”
Raia Was may be Captain Obvious, but her songs promise to reveal their true selves only through multiple listens, and with the help of time itself.
Like an onion – or an ogre – these tracks have layers, containing multitudes that go far beyond what any surface-level listen may glean. The beauty of this album is how that depth lies in wait for all who seek it out: Take your sweet time with this music; let it linger on your ears and consume your heart. Come back to them as you see fit, and we promise you’ll eventually see what we already know to be true: That Raia Was has created a beautiful, everlasting companion to our everyday experience, capturing what it feels like to dwell in life’s depths and what it means to be human.
“I hope this record is really good company,” Was concludes. “I hope people want to stay in the world of the music and marinate in it; I hope they want to put it on for a long drive or on a run. Making it offered me a deep satisfaction – it scratched an itch I haven’t been able to reach yet in my music making. And I can only hope it does the same for you.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Raia Was’ Captain Obvious with Atwood Magazine as she goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her sophomore album!
Stream: ‘Captain Obvious’ – Raia Was
:: Inside Captain Obvious ::
note: I have a very strong sensory memory for place so I decided to take the approach of telling you a bit about where the song was made or where the sample was taken or where the lyrics came to light.
What It Feels Like
This is the rare song that came out whole, one take, couple hours, done. I made it in my home studio on a Friday. It didn’t want to be touched, and you’ve gotta respect that.
If You’re Asking (I’m Offering)
I recorded this upstate over the course of a couple crisp autumn days. The beat totally entranced me, I’d be ruminating on lyrics and end up on my feet dancing around the room every time.
The summer of 2021 I was in the car a lot, trying to make up for lost time seeing friends, getting out of the city. On a very long drive to Massachusetts I hit on this arrangement by accidentally reversing the guitars I had recorded that week. It knocked me out! My partner was driving and I just wouldn’t leave him alone, like “wait til you hear this!”
Tough To Love
This was one of those middle of the night weirdos where you don’t really know what you’ve got til the next day. And another one that just wanted to be what it was… there was no touching it after it came out.
Give Up The Beat
This is a song that needed to be performed a bunch before I knew what the recording wanted. It’s the first song I arranged for piano and realized there was a whole core harmonic structure implicit in the arrangement that I had left unsaid. I went back through a number of songs on the record and found the same thing had happened. I think my background as a pianist has left me sort of always hearing things that aren’t there harmonically… a big lesson in production for me here was figuring out what could be left unsaid and what needed to be marked.
Cue the same drive to Massachusetts a couple months later and it happened again! There must be something about that ride that widens my perspective on arrangement. On that drive I got brave about mixing up vocal takes from different sessions, where I really got into different characters, and diversified the arrangement by using all these different voices. I’m most proud of how many people I am on this track.
Playing God Again
At the 11th hour I took the record to my dear friend and longtime collaborator Lora-Faye Åshuvud’s studio for a big comb-through before sending to mix. There were a number of songs that they had strong instincts about and we ended up going in for a last round of additions and production edits. They pushed me to let the bridge of this track depart much further from the landscape of the rest of the song and got me on vocoder while they scratched out some guitar. I love where we took this one.
Won’t Shy Away
Lora-Faye lent me their vocoder for almost all of 2021 and one of the first things I made on it was this vocal. The instrument mostly served to get my brain revved up but I couldn’t get this melody out of my head and kept coming back to the recording the whole time I was working on the album. It felt like an important addition to the context of the rest of the music on the record.
The thing about this song is it’s a love song (rare for me). It’s earnest and sweet in a way I don’t often have access to. Therefore it’s no surprise that I don’t remember much about recording it… But it was the first song I finished off the album. And I played it the night before my friend’s wedding in Mexico in February 2020. I could feel then that it was a big departure for me, the beginning of this new sonic space I would work in for the next two years.
The Fragile Part
Oof this song. I knew I was there for the first vocal take – the lyrics came right away and there was no stopping them. It was another late night in my home studio. And I really wanted to stop, it was pretty painful to let it happen. But I knew I had gotten to the bottom of something and I had to stay there as long as I could stand it.
I was in LA while piecing this one together and I think it shows – the space of this song feels simpler, the sound floor lower, much less of the hum of NYC. Lora-Faye had the idea to bring in the sample of me walking on grass before the first chorus (which was also taken in LA) and it permanently grounded this song in place for me. I love that, feeling such a strong locational memory in a recording…
Easy To Force It
…and the strongest of all is here. I was visiting friends in New Orleans, sitting on their porch in the rain playing their guitar. I was thinking about a vocal I had recorded before I arrived and with the memory of that lyric, tracked this little loop. I couldn’t believe how well they fit together in the end, like the most intentional freak accident. Making music is so many things, and so often I’m frustrated that I can’t quite get disparate things to work the way I hear them in my head. But this time, it worked perfectly.
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© Lucy Blumenfield
:: Stream Raia Was ::