To many, Alkali might feel like a safe, low-stakes r&b record. It’s a mere thirty minutes long and filled with cozy, dreamlike production courtesy of The-Drum’s Jeremiah Meece. Even more, the lyrics don’t ever border on obtuse or hauntingly dark; these are straightforward pop songs dripping with magnetic romanticism. But while it may not present itself as a Grand Artistic Statement, Alkali gets so much right that the majority of the r&b underground doesn’t. For one, Meece understands how to use his production to work with Rahel. Vocals aren’t awkwardly forced on a track nor are they mere ornamental flourishes; Rahel’s silky vocals feel like an integral part to the album’s entire sound. This is primarily done by placing them a bit deep in the mix. Because of this, they’re given equal weight to the rest of the instrumentation. Not only does this sustain the album’s hazy, love-struck atmosphere but it makes it all the easier to be smitten by it.
If there’s any one thing that a contemporary r&b album needs to do, it’s to make the grandiosity of its emotions transferable. And because of the production and mixing, different elements of Rahel’s vocalizing—rhythm, melody, and tone—are considerably intensified. On highlight “Currents”, Rahel fluctuates between different vocal rhythms to express the eagerness of being with a lover. It never feels excessive or clumsy; it’s just another element that’s swirling alongside the synth pads. And even when it’s hard to make out the lyrics, be it from obfuscation or being too caught up in each song’s groove, certain key phrases are strategically emphasized. On “Flutter”, Rahel sings “‘cause you know I’m a winner / gotta have you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, baby”. Its vocal rhythm is faster than anything that’s come before but also happens to be the first perfect rhyme of the song. The fact a pitch-shifted voice echoes the word “baby” only draws more attention to the line. It’s this careful attention to detail that makes Alkali so addicting. Four of the tracks don’t even stretch past three minutes but the restraint is purposeful, making the intro and its reprise on the interlude feel like crucial components of the album. And that’s exactly what makes Alkali so great: everything, from the production to the singing to the guest features, feels carefully planned and thoughtfully considered.