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Kelela forms a sonic forestry of breakups, makeups on “Take Me Apart”

R&B crooner doesn’t disappoint on her dance and digital heavy debut

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Album: “Take Me Apart”

Artist: Kelela

Label: Warp Records

Release Date: Oct. 6

Grade: A-

Forward-thinking dance music is a hard sound to achieve, especially for a 34-year-old singer who has yet to peak.

Kelela’s debut full-length project, “Take Me Apart,” makes the task look effortless.

The album pushes heavy futurism in the form of R&B. It’s the first big-time record since the singer’s mixtape “Cut 4 Me” in 2013. Four years later, she takes her past work’s basic elements and builds them up to skyscraper heights.

The album acts as a musical intermission for life’s insecurities and it’s a brief offering, clocking in at approximately 53 minutes. Nonetheless, the singer excites, mellows and conjures up jams in her shortened selection of love songs.

It’s clear where Kelela steps forward where other R&B contemporaries step back and her maturity shines through.

On “Jupiter,” one of the album’s selections, a slew of wonky synths ring in as the sound of water dripping relaxes the instrumental. Kelela then chimes in and does so gracefully, asking the listener to “find a light in a cool color” and find love in her. The singer’s lyricism is lightened but the beat provides a magical soundscape, an audible serene space for any R&B fan.

It’s songs like “Jupiter,” which make you feel at home with the singer, as if you’re alone in a bubble of electronic, impassioned forces.

The atmosphere Kelela creates on “Take Me Apart” is clear from the beginning on the album’s opening tracks “Frontline” and “Waitin.”

For fans of HBO’s “Insecure,” “Frontline” is a record debuted on the show memorably for its airiness and Beyoncé’s “7/11” like hook. It’s a trap and electronic-friendly breakup number, but the singer’s transitional skills shine. Kelela is effortless in her approach from bridge to verse.

“Waitin” releases the singer into a twist of emotions over an upbeat instrumental. Kelela describes seeing an ex after a withdrawal from a previous relationship and her feelings for him deep down. She preaches not wanting to be judged while hopping over a beat that scurries through fast and slow rudiments.

In other places on “Take Me Apart,” the singer doesn’t rely on instrumentation as much as her singles do. On “Better,” Kelela describes a tough breakup over subtle leads and bass. It’s lullaby-esque and reveals the singer’s abilities to create songs oozing with relatability for lovers looking to take time off.

After “Better” concludes and the commanding pop track “LMK” passes by, one of the album’s standout tracks begins.

“Truth Or Dare” is a sprinkling of fun drums and noise from producers Jam City & Kwes. Kelela teases throughout while exhibiting her range of highs and lows, daring her future partner at the bridge as synths and drums clash.
“Onanon” displays an uptick in tempo and emotions, offering a dash of angelic vocals and rapid production from star electronic producer Arca.

The album continues with “S.O.S.,” a sensual call out to her partner. Kelela croons out onto the clip of a track. The singer is amongst a string of noise best fit for a building under construction, yet the song is presented as wholesome. It’s a two minute call for affection and the singer lustfully delivers.

The cut’s follow-up, “Blue Light,” is on a different side of the musical spectrum. Kelela cries out and enters into a warp of dubstep-like woos in the song’s chorus.

The song beats back and forth in styles like a musical metronome, at times guttural and at others achieving heavenly climates. Produced with the help of Dubbel Dutch and Bok Bok, the song’s fashionably tuned electronics push the singer into an ambient direction.

The ambience of “Blue Light” leaves leeway for songs like “Turn To Dust,” which enclose classical auras into soul.

Other tracks like “Bluff” are more trap, if anything proving a trend on the album. Kelela is best when she offers her audience short, sweet and to-the-point tracks.

Her progressive capabilities do push the singer to create messy tracks, however, and such is the case with “Enough.” Drums are scatterbrained throughout the song’s verse and noticeably into the hook. As the singer fades in, her soulful utterances reverberate to the extreme, challenging each other and creating an ugly spill of vocals.

Aside from areas of the record that are a sensory overload, the musical skies clear up at the end of “Take Me Apart.”

On “Altadena,” clear ‘80s influences seep through as Kelela delivers pleasing choral, echoing arrangements. She reminds listeners there’s a “place for everyone,” coming to an understanding of herself and the world.

“Take Me Apart,” in total, achieves its purpose and so much more. It ships out jams to listeners but also unveils an improvement in Kelela’s conceptual abilities on individual tracks.

By conglomerating her sounds and distinguishing herself as one of the year’s standout R&B artists, Kelela takes herself apart and brings listeners along for the soulful ride.

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior arts editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com.


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