With electronic music permeating every aspect of underground and mainstream consumption, artists who care about both live and album versions of their electronic sounds are increasingly difficult to find. Cue in Kelela (née Mizanekristos), a beloved singer in blogging spheres and big-name artists whose music stylings have turned heads over the last five years.
Kelela’slatest EP release from Warp, Hallucinogen, is receiving rave reviews, with her penchant for working with producer powerhouses like Bok Bok, Kingdom, Arca and Boots. On my first play-through of Hallucinogen, I was immediately sucked into the haunting opening song, “A Message,” produced by Arca. I was left with the same nostalgic, gripping pain I experience when listening to FKA twigs which is to be expected, as Arca produced on FKA twigs’ near universal acclaim for LP1, taking similar rolling breaks and glitched beats to allow for Kelela’s voice to take on its fullest form.
Moving into “Gomenasai,” I hear garage-trap-malevolent R&B, showcasing Kelela’s take on an Aaliyah vocal styling while creating a new space for herself. She draws on feminist and deceivingly strong lyricism like, “What’s my name better say it twice / you’re my (bitch) tonight / but tomorrow you won’t admit it.” Like FKA twigs did for LP1, Kelela takes command of her sexuality and strength and doles it out without restraint.
One of the weakest songs off Hallucinogen, serving as the critical blow to my enjoyment of the EP, is undoubtedly “Rewind,” which is ephemeral at best and boring by the end. Kelela, for some reason, takes on Janet Jackson-esque breathy vocals (even down to giggles, what?!), doing little for her unwavering talent and to the detriment of the song as a whole. As an attempt for an upbeat pace change after the heaviness of preceding tracks left it falling far too short for what we came to expect from her.
This feeling of low-key, weak music is remedied by the final song, “The High.” Utilizing dark, weighty bass synths against sparse drums, “The High” gives Kelela her true voice back. She’s no longer trying to emulate another well-known singer’s voice, but instead draws us back towards her own unique style. I was immediately whisked away into a pitch-black, suffocating dream with her voice surrounding me and wished the entire EP was tight and concise with this song as its thread.
As I continued listening my way through the EP, I began growing increasingly dissatisfied with most of it. With the exceptions of “A Message,” “Gomenasai,” and “The High,” I found myself immediately forgetting the song I just listened to. As both a strength and weakness, this forgetability is the most striking aspect of Kelela’s music – her ability to submerge you in a “present” sinisterly sweet atmosphere imbibed with heavy emotion, not steeping us in ardent nostalgia or of what’s to come. I can take her music in stride while simultaneously leaving it behind, because by allowing us to sample a taste of her world, we’re never left feeling adrift from our own, very present reality.