Kelela: Take Me Apart

Kelela's excellent debut manages to evoke megastar crooners from decades past, cyborgs from the future, and, unmistakably, the defining sounds of pop music's present.

It's a rare feat that Kelela Mizanekristos has accomplished, establishing herself as such a driving force in contemporary electronic and R&B music over the past several years, all without releasing an official debut. I wrote something similar about Sampha's Process earlier this year, though by comparison, Kelela's slow-burning ascension has been driven less by high-profile collaborations and more by the peripheral creep of her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me and 2015's Hallucinogen EP (though her Danny Brown and Solange features last year certainly helped as well). Even as her work and aesthetic has informed the likes of artistic giants like FKA twigs, however, Kelela has up until now been an influencer largely from the shadows.


Take Me Apart

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2017-10-06
UK Release Date: 2017-10-06

With Take Me Apart, she now pole-vaults herself into the center of the conversation, producing an ambitious and lovingly cultivated debut LP as opulent as it is inventive. The album's sound mainly picks up where the Hallucinogen highlight "Rewind" left off, veering slightly away from her more experimental and glitchy side in favor of sleek, emotive, subtly retro pop songs.

There is little here as confrontational and jarring as, say, Cut 4 Me's "Enemy", which admittedly some fans might miss. Instead, opening track "Frontline" is perhaps the best representation of the album as a whole, a viscous, sinewy R&B song that nails each of its hooks with radio-worthy precision. Combined with "Waitin", Take Me Apart first introduces itself as a notably polished and relatively more straightforward affair compared with its predecessors.

That said, Kelela can only resist dragging the album to its sonic left for so long. "Enough" spirals off its centripetal axis altogether, Kelela's spliced vocals dueling with unmoored cascades of percussion, like a pop song collapsing in on itself. This more overt experimentation is not necessarily the defining characteristic for the record in all, which instead sounds like it has its sights set on massive pop success. Still, Kelela finds ways to weave a more deconstructed aesthetic throughout, albeit in subtle and measured ways.

The excellent "Better" is a case in point: the song starts off as a sensitive, '90s-inflected R&B ballad, Kelela's delivery dialing up the sweetness and ruefulness alike. But three minutes in, after the listener has had ample time to grow complacent with the song as it is, a chilly, metallic beat surfaces and abruptly pulls things in a more turbulent direction.

Indeed, while Take Me Apart has mostly smooth edges, it ultimately proves itself to be a versatile and varied listen. With its densely processed vocal hook, "Blue Light" sounds simultaneously like it could have been a Weeknd or Travis Scott song, channeling the intersection of R&B and hip-hop in a way that sounds thoroughly contemporary. "LMK" introduces scorched, robotic synths to the album's sound palette, while "Onanon" centralizes the insistent melody of its chorus above all else. Listening to Take Me Apart often feels like intercepting radio waves from Venus, a subtly warped, uncanny reflection of pop music in 2017.

While not as attention-grabbing, however, many of the album's best moments are those where the dense production steps back and allows Kelela's soft, pure voice to come to the forefront. Along with the aforementioned "Better", songs like the lush, poignant "Turn to Dust", the sentimental "Altadena", and the theremin-like croon of "Jupiter" provide some of the most gorgeous and lasting moments on the record. Take Me Apart is genuinely an album without low points, striking a balance between the allure of mainstream pop and the inventiveness of its fringes. Kelela has produced a debut that somehow manages to evoke megastar crooners from decades past, cyborgs from the future, and, unmistakably, the defining sounds of pop music's present.

Related Articles Around the Web

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.