Joe Rainey: “once the reaper”

Joe Rainey’s voice is a fearsome instrument, so flexible and expressive that even repeat listens can’t fully blunt the shock of its power. On his remarkable debut record, Niineta, which fused pow wow with experimental electronics, the singer streaked like a missile across producer Andrew Broder’s expansive compositions, launching into scorching vocal assaults and misty-eyed reveries. The pair partner again on “once the reaper,” for Psychic Hotline’s singles series. Rainey howls for the memory of loved ones taken too soon as Broder’s lurching, sulfuric beat threatens to overwhelm him; the gasping samples and punishing, leaden kick drum soon retreat as Rainey is propelled through darkness. The title refers to the impossible hope of Rainey entering a smackdown with the Grim Reaper to avenge (“to once”) everyone that he’s taken. In the song’s extended denouement, his white-knuckle rage dissipates into otherworldly ambience as a disembodied voice instructs the listener to pray and hang a feather for strength. It’s a comforting close to a harrowing showdown, and Rainey manages to skirt despair by holding fast to loved ones and tradition.