After making a huge splash with mainstream audiences earlier this year through the latest Gorillaz record Humanz, there was even more excitement leading towards Kelela’s debut LP. Sticking the landing, the album is a sweeping mix of pop, R&B and a lot of wonderful experimental writing and sound-crafting. Making a record all her own, she manages to find the crossroads of enough genres to make a record that is as accessible as it is artistically inspiring.
With a smooth beat and slow wave of synths, “Frontline” pushes along as Kelela illustrates the war-like realities of love. The clapping beats pop, and the relentless flow makes for a track that knows how to push and pull its dynamics. “Waitin” lets the vocals drive the whole track as layers of harmonies all come in together for a constant roll of melody. The intertwining of beats and the overall mix of hooks makes for a track that feels like it’s always genuine.
“Take Me Apart” phases along with a weird mix of hazy production and an underlying trudge of energy that rises up through the noise loudly. The sublime harmonic work has Kelela landing between Michael Jackson and Haim in the best way possible for the finale, as she crafts some strong pop with endless chords. Bringing in a menacing bass line with one of the most startling percussive drives of the record, “Enough” is a soaring piece full of cascading vocal work. Through the ethereal tones and the weirdly twisted composition, the song builds until it’s an enveloping whirlpool of sound.
Slowing things back down “Jupiter” is a slow synth drive that builds a lightly spiralling tone and lets Kelela’s vocals do the heavy lifting. While it never gets to a huge peak, the tight writing makes it a nice break in the record. “Better” moves to its stellar pop chords, that she bends from predictable to emotive and lets them make her slow-burning writing last. As it brings in huge drums for the finale, the song evolves into a triumphant track that perfectly shows the movement from heartbroken to stronger.
“LMK” quickly drops the hook on its dense production, weirdly mixing harmonies on top of its heavy beats. While a much darker and immediate track, it is one of the most intricately written and endlessly entrancing because of it. Letting its beat fall like bass-filled bricks, “Truth Or Dare” hits sharply as the dreamy vocals loop around themselves. As much a dance track as it is an experimental pop song, Kelela never misses an opportunity to push the limits of her writing on this debut.
Slowly trickling out the melody on “S.O.S.” there’s a hallucinogenic quality to the sound as she drifts in and out of normality with the production. The short writing actually crafts one of the better pop tracks of the record but doesn’t stay too long and risk losing its edge. “Blue Edge” moves to a Weeknd tinged pop full of distortion and distant vocal notes. As catchy as parts of it are, and as big as the vocals get at times, it’s hard to feel like it’s not a little too derivative of modern pop.
“Onanon” rolls fast and relentless, as Kelela delivers her pained vocals rapidly without ever losing the melody. Her eerie and overbearing tones through the bridge make for one of the standout moments of the record as she finds a goose bump inducing use of dynamics. Letting strings and synths swell again and again, “Turn To Dust” is a brooding and sad piece that creates such an enveloping mix of instruments that it’s easy to get swept up.
Rounding out the record with the creepy sampling of “Bluff” Kelela drops a surprisingly catchy interlude with what could be a horror movie tone piece. Ending on “Altadena” she flutters in synth lines while using her voice in much more expressive ways that also emulate different instruments, creating one of the most impressive tracks on the record sonically.
Words by Owen Maxwell