Blending R&B vocals with innovative electronic production, and citing influences from Janet Jackson to Björk to Betty Carter, Kelela represents, in my estimation and that of the New York Times Magazine and The Guardian, a new musical forefront. Unfettered by convention and meticulous in her production, she speaks directly to a marginalized black, queer audience about empowerment and self-determination. Kelela crafts lyrics with a unique ear and honesty, draws on the pluralistic vocal currents of R&B, and collaborates with experimental producers to shatter conventional structures and sonorities. What results is a discography of warm, shimmering, cerebral, and irresistibly danceable tracks that leave the listener ecstatic.
In “Frontline,” the first cut off her recent debut album Take Me Apart, Kelela describes the first, raw moments after a break-up. She walks to her car, head spinning, wounded but buoyed. The soft, synthy production and organic whispers hypnotize us; listen for the half-time relationship between the opening of the song and its outro. Kelela’s probing vocals remind us that “we’re going in circles” as we succumb to the album’s labyrinthine spirals. Consider her recursive syntax, chained almost like lines in Dante:
“I’ll tell you what, there’s no luck, it’s all me. / I’m staying up; don’t wait up, ’cause they’re betting on me / Coming up with the sun around me. / Fire me up; now I’m up and I won’t be taken / Down on my luck; tell you what, it’s all me. / I’m staying up; don’t wait up ’cause they’re betting on me / Coming up with the sun around me. / Fire me up, now I’m up and there’s no coming down.”
“Frontline” – Kelela, Take Me Apart (2017)
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