While listening to Kelela’s discography there is one thing that immediately comes to mind: she is a perfectionist, that leaves nothing to chance and takes all the time necessary to fully exploit her creativity.
In fact, after the release of Cut 4 Me, her first mixtape, praised by no one less that Avant-Pop legend Björk, in 2013, and Hallucinogen, her first EP out for WARP Records, which featured Arca for the production of the lead single “A Message”, in 2015, Kelela took two years to work to her long-awaited debut album (always out for WARP Records).
And if her appearance on Danny Brown’s and Solange Knowles’s albums last year, and her featuring on Gorillaz‘ Humanz this year, made the waiting more tolerable for any of her fan, it also greatly raised the anticipation towards this talented artist. And now that the wait is over it is safe to say that yes, Kelela’s debut album, Take Me Apart, surely lives up to any expectation, and sings an important shift towards a more pop image.
If Cut 4 Me proved that her amazing voice could flow smoothly over a cornucopia of different music styles, from dancehall to UK bass and UK funky, and Hallucinogen proposed a lesser variety in terms of production, and focused on creating a tipsy, psychedelic atmosphere thanks to a perfect mesh between beats and her style of singing, Take Me Apart stands up as an avant-pop (or avant-R&B) manifesto, where fresh, excellently produced beats act as a springboard to Kelela’s outstanding vocal performance, hitting the listener right trough the heart.
Of course this particular choice makes the record more accessible and a little less experimental per se, and may disappoint those who expected a direct follow-up to Hallucinogen in terms of sound, but, still, it doesn’t mean that Take Me Apart is cheap or boring. On the contrary, it is a very enjoyable album that, from the artwork itself, fiercely faces the bigger audience with nothing to hide, solid, direct and explicit. Kelela is a grown woman and her unique strenght allows her to bravely face her own weaknesses, in a way to get a better view on who she really is. The record is in fact a deep dive into’s Kelela’s heart, and every song is a depiction of her desires (both physical and emotional) and her fears.
From this prospective, the nudity featured on the album artwork doesn’t stand only as a statement of sexual freedom, which is a central theme in Take Me Apart’s narrative, but also works as an exposition of Kelela’s vulnerability, as a woman and as a human being.
This duplicity is reflected in the album’s dynamic alternation of tracks where Kelela’s explicitly sings about her erotic impulses, free from the boundaries of a serious relationship, and tracks where she reflects with disarming honesty on her feelings towards a past lover and her mistakes. But there is more: in every song Kelela develops the primary themes of desire and melancholia in a different way, creating a complex spectrum of emotions, perfectly balanced with the variety of the beats.
So while the title track, a sexy UK Bass jam produced by Arca and Jam City, talks about the physical reconnection with a person Kelela was once together and the enjoyment that comes from knowing each other sexually once again, before any new sentimental implication (“Don’t say you’re in love until you learn to take me apart”), LMK (also produced by Jam City), which is basically an early 00’s R&B turned into an absolute banger thanks to an excellent bass boost and the perfect blending of sensual drones and Kelela’s voice, is a song about the sense of freedom that she feels being single again, and the fun that comes in the search of an innocent casual love.
They are both songs about sex and desire, indeed, but the point of view is completely different, showing two different sides of the same woman.
With Take Me Apart Kelela opens up a space where she can express herself freely, sexually, musically, and while doing so, she also proclaims herself as a pop-icon. But, like Björk did in the 90’s, she refused to sacrifice the quality of her music for a greater accessibility and choose to work side by side with some of the most innovative producer of this decade and bring to the public an high-quality, Avant-R&B record, as good as entertaining.