Kelela — Shape-Shifting R&B LP

Sultry, sexy, shape-shifting R&B is what Kelela gave us on her debut offering, Take Me Apart — which dropped on Friday, 6 October 2017.

I’ll be honest and say, the first time i’ve ever heard of Kelela was on Solange’s ‘Scales’ late last year. I was captured. This lead me to the discovery of her musical discography from there on.

I remember listening to her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me, which was closely followed by a 2015 EP ‘Hallucinogen’. If anything, her consistency and follow up to the much awaited LP is something to be celebrated.

Kelela stamped her fingerprint into music history as one of the most arresting contemporary R&B voices in the new millennium, which has created a stitch in time, laying 90s R&B vocal influences over edgy digital production and progressive electronic beats.

The deeply personal debut LP does what it says on the label — with a spacious operation, the 34-year-old ponders love, lust, heartbreak and tenderness into the soundbeds that break around her.

Thanks to the production stable Jam City, Bok Bok, Kingdom and Arca for the luscious, icy and danceable beats.

WARP – 2017

Frontline — the opening first track opens the journey into interdimensional wanderlust. (“There’s a place you own I left behind, I’m finished / Since you took your time, you should know why I’m quitting”), sings the Cut 4 Me songstress. This nagging breakup song is a feature of cinematic sounds — lighter clicks, flashing cars and car key fob beeps, inhaling — Her vocals play off well against this echoey, late-night skittering bop.

“Waiting” — a nostalgic space jam which speaks about rebounding with a lover and feeling regret. “Enough” is a similarly aching, fast forcing song. The album is a themed body of work of a decision to leave — something, someone, somewhere. Loving, being loved, being in love, how best to attempt these daring acts of generosity without literally dying of them: These are all themes that Kelela has thought a lot about. The experiences of being a black woman in all its glory.

A firm favourite, “Jupiter”, is an extraterrestrial ballad that doesn’t forget to come back down to physical reality — hence the thunderstorm and rain at the end of the song. This song is a symphony for instability and loneliness (“I can tell you’re running / Oh, it never ends”). This 2-minute port leads way to the beautifully written ballad “Better”. This is a disalarmling song, on which Kelela lends her vocals to low-key keyboards, as she sees herself tell a soon-to-be-ex: (“I care enough not to keep you around.”)

Whether she’s singing about a complicated romantic entanglement or something more primal, she’s never afraid to lay herself on the line.

The lead song on the LP, “LMK” introduces scorched, robotic synths to the album’s sound palette. It speaks about having casual, meaningless sex. “Truth Or Dare” is a edgy smokey virtual euphoria. “S.O.S” lends itself as the lusting, straight up booty-call anthem. She needs her lover to come around, to help her out in pleasure.

Kelela conjures Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child influences throughout the album. From track 10 to 11 on the album, the harmonising of “Blue Light” and “Onanon” centralizes the insistent melody of its chorus above all else.

“Turn To Dust” is poignant, chilly and an intercepting wave with cinematic dramatic violin song. The metallic beat surface of “Bluff” is a backdrop to Kelela’s sign-off to the final song on the album, another one of my favourites — “Altadena”. This song is sentimental, stripped bare and open for truth.

This album deserves every ounce of praise for being a solid, well produced and seamless album released in 2017. There’s not a single low point moment while you listen to it. It takes you on a journey of uncanny self-reflection and evoking emotions.

Album rating: 9/10.

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