I first heard Kelela Mizanekristos’ brand of experimental R&B-infused electronica back in October 2013, when I downloaded her Cut 4 Me mixtape upon receiving a recommendation from one of my favourite blogs at the time. I fell in love shortly after pressing play. Unfortunately for me, it would be another two years before she dropped the follow-up, the incredible Hallucinogen EP. Now four years since her dulcet tones first struck my naive 15-year-old ears, I finally get the pleasure of gushing over a full-length Kelela album. Sufficed to say, it was worth the treacherous wait.
Kelela has always had a talent for composition and sequencing, and the track list of Take Me Apart is no exception. On a 53-minute record with 14 tracks, she provides interlude tracks such as ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Bluff’ alongside longer 4-5 minute songs in order to let the track list breathe. The result of this is a cohesive and yet dynamic sonic journey that references the past whilst remaining firmly in the future. In an interview with iHeartRadio she has described this as a break-up album, with each track referencing a different part of what is a “drawn-out” process.
I fell in love shortly after pressing play
On first listen, it’s difficult not to be instantly taken by the hook-laden up-tempo tracks that populate the album. Lead single ‘LMK’, coming in the middle of the track list, acts as a centrepiece, sounding as fresh as it did when it dropped back in August. This song is an empowering and defiant anthem, addressing the liberating post-break up ‘single moment’. Other highlights include ‘Waitin’, ‘Truth or Dare’ and ‘Onanon’, all of which contain some of the strongest hooks in her discography thus far, channelling legends such as Janet Jackson and TLC. Possibly my favourite track of all however is ‘Blue Light’, with its dirty, thumping synth line in the chorus contrasting with the delicacy of Kelela’s vocal refrains…it’s just transcendent. Lyrically she captures the spontaneity and excitement that overcomes you in a whirlwind romance, when all inhibitions are lowered.
Having listened to this album an absurd number of times in the two weeks since its release, I have allowed the slower burning and more discreet moments to creep up on me, gradually becoming some of my favourites on the entire project. ‘Enough’, produced by acclaimed Venezuelan producer extraordinaire Arca, sees Kelela channel her best futuristic space nymph and it’s every bit as ethereal as it sounds. The song describes the moment when you know that a relationship is truly over, as evident from her emotive vocal delivery. Melodically, the track ‘Better’ allows her vocals to take centre stage, creating a breath-taking moment of stoicism and directness. It is moments like this that emphasise how much of a defining moment this record is for Kelela. Finally, closing track ‘Altadena’ is a gift that keeps on giving – providing new details and intricacies to be discovered with every fresh listen. Lyrically she described the track as “a message…for black women on their grind, operating in spaces where they aren’t appreciated”, making it a particularly poignant closer.
This is a powerful record. This is the sound of an immensely talented, openly queer black woman who is considered ‘old’ in many music industry circles releasing her debut album, bearing her soul and yet standing defiant. She took the time to hone her craft and is owning every aspect of her identity. Kelela, I was in awe when I first heard your music and four years later, I’m still bewitched.