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Album Review: "Take Me Apart", Kelela

Take Me Apart, despite being Kelela’s debut album, feels like we’re three or four albums deep into a well established r&b artist’s discography who’s spent years polishing her sound. In this project Kelela works with 15 different producers to achieve a sound that’s pretty cutting edge for the genre. The production here is extremely clean and refined; it’s simultaneously packed with layers and layers of things to uncover while still feeling oddly simple.

Look at cuts like Take Me Apart for example; the textures are pretty dense, but slowly come in until they build up in the chorus and the subtle details overtake you the more you notice them. On songs like Enough, the choral, reverb-soaked vocals are absolutely gorgeous and well complimented by the glitchy synths and drums. Kelela uses reverb to her advantage in a number of cuts here; see songs like Waitin, Truth or Dare, or Turn To Dust with the atmospheric, hazy nature of the vocals.

Blue Light and Onanon are definitely highlights here as well; the synth leads on Blue Light are infectious, and Onanon’s glitchy production really give it bite/impact. Kelela’s vocal performances are soulful and impassioned, fitting perfectly into the sonic landscape of the album. Overall, it’s a smooth, pristinely produced record that not only flows nicely in terms of its sound; it makes a lot of sense conceptually as well.

The lyrics on this project are significantly stronger than a lot of other contemporary alternative r&b projects I’ve listened to. It tackles a number of specific scenarios you might deal with in a relationship and feels almost uncomfortably personal. Note moments like on Waitin that describe seeing your ex again after breaking up and still feeling like you can’t get over, or on Frontline that delve into the moments following a certain breakup where you feel good about the decision and empowered by your freedom, or on LMK that get into just needing simple communication with someone you’re casually dating about their intentions. Almost all of the song topics here interested me at the very least; they’re creative and distinct while still being relatable.

However, despite this fact, there were a few exceptions. Tracks like Jupiter don’t have much of a purpose at all, don’t really impress me instrumentally either and probably could have been cut from the album. SOS just feels a little cliche in comparison to the other tracks; it essentially is just about a booty call and doesn’t feel as creative as the rest. Bluff to me just drones on and doesn’t really need to be there at all. Turn to Dust is pretty, but has a similar effect and doesn’t justify being a full four minutes. Despite all this, although at first Altadena felt like a detour from the concept at hand, the more I thought about it, the more its placement made perfect sense to me. According to Kelela this song’s lyrics are meant specifically for black women “operating in spaces where maybe they’re not appreciated”. Note lyrics like “Nothing to be said or done/there’s a place for everyone, let me remind you.” This has everything to do with relationships, and is a fitting message to end the album with.

This is for sure a highlight of all of 2017’s r&b projects; despite a few tracks that could’ve been cut, this is overall a pretty consistent album with impressive production yet simplistic beauty that’s unmatched by a lot of the others, and a number of solid themes that keep your interest almost the whole way through. Don’t miss it.

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