Kelela is an American singer/songwriter who puts an original slant on her music. Her new album Hallucinogen, released on Warp, follows 2013’s critically acclaimed album Cut 4 Me on which she set out to make a mixtape sound like a remix album by adding her own vocals to music by DJs on Fade to Mind and Night Slugs. Hallucinogen is an album packed with ideas which is expressive and cool. Fans of Bjork, FKA Twigs and Grimes should check this out.
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I’m gonna get boring for a second and just write a tirade of praise: Kelela’s ‘Cut 4 Me’ mixtape, dropped in 2013, was a phenomenal hybrid of musical styles, taking cuts by a bunch of very good producers and turning them into revelatory pop songs. Able to make her performance the centrepiece around airy productions that end up feeling like responsive settings, she’s now back with ‘Hallucinogen’, a record that hopes to express feeling amidst a shifting plate of workmanlike beats. Amidst another roster of producers, now including toned-down experimentalist Arca, she continues to command with emotive, intuitive songwriting.
It’s “The High” where I best hear Kelela’s intentions seep through: amidst watery, almost fantastical keys, a desperately searching beat and a subdued, almost sombre bassline, she offers different strands of her voice: some leading, others getting tangled into them, others spoken out of context. Together they all offer a sense of urgency to an otherwise clean, assured piece of pop music. The sparsity of DJ Dahl’s production on “All The Way Down” -- juxtaposing a skittering trap beat with light, acoustic-sounding percussion -- gives Kelela space to flit between, her vocals coming clearly on lucid lines (“There’s something buried in your eyes / Draws me in and I can’t hide”) and getting modulated, fractured or buried on less clear ones (“On a one way to you”).
This is some of Kelela’s most daring work, with her decisions on the Arca-produced “Hallucinogen” making for a wobbly, surrealist take on her pop music -- beats wind and clatter as her voice trawls through vocoder tryouts, with sampled vocals coming in to further warp reality. As Kelela seems to be hoping, the result is more about what you feel in the moment than where the experiment pushes the record as a whole -- each of these tracks perform a sleight of hand where production and process aren't as important as what flows out to the listener.
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