Kelela’s debut album was more than worth the wait. Four years after making a splash with her debut mixtape Cut 4 Me, Kelela’s got another helping of her futuristic, spaced-out, deeply sensual R&B. The 14 songs herein feel like a meeting of past and future; the instrumentals sound like lounge music from the future—imagine trip-hop, but not dated—while Kelela’s singing evokes the best of ‘90s R&B. Like a late-night text from a potential hookup, it’s an album that’s as subtle as it is sultry. Not to mention, it’s sonically restless but not stylistically inconsistent—no small feat given the small army of producers who worked on this album. (To dwell too much on that is to overlook the fact that it’s Kelela herself who anchors the album.) Honestly, you could drop the needle pretty much anywhere on this excellent album and you’ll be blown away.|
FCCs: None (we have an FCC-clean version!)
Favorites: 1, 2, 3, 7, 10, 11, 12
1) “Frontline” (5:39)* – Subtle electronic throbs under Kelela’s vocals. Trap-inspired percussion kicks in at about 1:20, but for the most part, this song seems to float in the air. You can fade out after 5:00, when it sounds like someone’s getting in a car and driving away—that’s just an outro.
2) “Waitin” (3:15)* – A pretty much perfect R&B / pop song. There’s the skittering hi-hats of trap and a thick, juicy bass. Sounds like something you might’ve heard on the radio back in 2000 alongside Destiny’s Child.
3) “Take Me Apart” (4:03)* – Slower, spaced-out R&B with some really immersive, expansive production flourishes. Another song that sounds like a great throwback.
4) “Enough” (5:09) – One of the most atmospheric songs on the album, with a clicking percussion track and whooshing synthesizers. Wait for the climax in the final minute—it comes out of almost nowhere and vanishes just as quickly.
5) “Jupiter” (2:05) – This short and sweet number kind of toes the line between atmospheric and adrift. It just kind of hangs there for two minutes, almost like it’s an interlude.
6) “Better” (4:26) – A torch song that, if not for the gentle swells of synthesizer, would almost scan as a cappella R&B. Percussion and some harder instrumentation kicks in in the last minute before falling away.
7) “LMK” (3:38)* – The pop single, about hooking up with no strings attached. There’s some contemporary pop-rap percussion and a weird, curdled bass sound under Kelela’s vocals. Along with “Waitin” it’s one of the most straightforward tracks on the album.
8) “Truth or Dare” (4:12) – Unlike some other tracks which feature more synths than percussion, this song seems more driven by percussion. It feels a little rougher around the edges than the tracks that come before it—sonically, at least. Kelela asks her partner to “lick it back,” which might be a bit much for the FCC or Christian moms. Your call.
9) “S.O.S.” (2:22) – Another slower, floating number like “Jupiter.” Kelela’s called this song “a classy booty call,” and I’m inclined to take her word for it.
10) “Blue Light” (3:37)* – More spacey R&B with some distant, reverbed percussion, but some warped, dubstep-like sounds in the chorus spike the punch. Like “Waitin” and “LMK,” this song was released as a single, so it’s kind of an obvious pick for airplay.
11) “Onanon” (4:32)* – The instrumental here sounds almost like something Aphex Twin would’ve put out in the late ‘90s. (Listen to the percussion and you’ll understand what I mean.) I guess that’s the influence of Arca, who co-wrote the track. The layers upon layers of vocals in the last minute of the song will make your head spin.
12) “Turn to Dust” (4:29)* – The second of the two songs co-written by Arca moves slower than its predecessor, but something feels warped and curdled about it—when there’s even audible music. In fact, there’s a lot of negative space between the instrumental and Kelela’s vocals. Another cut that’s not quite a cappella but comes close.
13) “Bluff” (1:12) – This song’s just over a minute long and features...a piano? It’s the most organic moment on the album, and while it makes me wonder what an album full of piano-driven songs by Kelela would sound like, it’s really not something I’d play on air.
14) “Altadena” (5:11) – Ends the album on a serene note. This song lacks the angular percussion or warped synths of other tracks, instead using synths to provide a soft landing for Kelela’s sultry vocals.