Sometimes introductions and interims on an album are just unnecessary fillers for streaming time on an LP that could cut down on a few songs. But the opening bars of "Body Language - Intro", the short opening track on Kali Uchis
' debut LP Isolation,
immediately proves that for her, the opposite is true.
"Body Language" lays the groundwork with a sweet melody and the melting clarity of Uchis' voice, and the album only gets better from there. From the get-go, Isolation
sounds smooth and as drippy as caramel. It's varied and clever, especially on tracks like "Dead to Me" and "In My Dreams", which call to mind images warm like summertime, popsicles melting by the pool, and falling in love. It's all wrapped up in a perfect package, peppered with influences from breezy places like Miami and Brazil.
Uchis is often described as "soul-pop" and there are certainly songs on the album that fit that bill. "Flight 22" and "Your Teeth In My Neck" both sit squarely in the summertime, sweet-as-candy soul pop side of things Uchis might be pegged for. They are both about being in love, with twinkling production and Uchis' voice placed on a pedestal, set up to soar and shine. "Catch me, kiss me," Uchis croons and whispers. The album, it seems, starts off in a dreamland of love and warmth, but both of these tracks almost feel like they end too abruptly, like Uchis has slipped the listener into a bath and then suddenly turned off the tap.
Later, things get more upbeat and Uchis gets a little more sultry. The hook picks up and is sprinkled with delicate piano and mallets as she sings unabashedly, "it's your teeth in my neck, your teeth in my neck".
With tracks that feature Jorja Smith and Reykon, Uchis dives headfirst into Latin music, with dancehall beats and Spanish lyrics. "Dead to Me" is an eighties Latin-pop tune, colorful with synthesizers and a chorus that nonchalantly sings "you're dead to me" over lush, pop production. The oozingly sweet summertime tunes take a sudden turn into something deeper and a little bit darker. The tracks become fuzzier and harder to read as featured verses come in and Smith and Reykon's voices shake things up, the lyrics indicating that not everything is happy-go-lucky in Uchis' world. All this culminates with "In My Dreams", one of the most accessible and fun tracks on the album that could easily be a contender for the song of the summer. But the lyrics, if you listen too closely, will leave you feeling kind of bummed out.
From here, things continue to feel a little sad. On "Tomorrow", Uchis trips over herself to tell the story of a friend of hers with a less-than-perfect childhood: "Daddy said he needed money / So he put her on the street / She had just turned thirteen / Got a family to feed", featuring production from Tame Impala
's Kevin Parker. Altogether it feels almost a little bit creepy, like the slimy underside to the sweet dream we've been hearing about up until now. Uchis backs it right up, though, with "Coming Home - Interlude", a sultry, self-assured homecoming that shows just because Uchis has problems doesn't mean she can't solve them. "Stop pushing me back or moving me forward / I'll move at my own pace just leave me alone," she begs on a twanging bass line while tambourines shake and hiss in the background, sounding like a regal queen.
Album highlight "After the Storm" with Tyler, the Creator
and Bootsy Collins returns to the ‘80s pop feeling but replaces the Latin dancehall with Tyler's dry, drawling verses and Bootsy's funkadelic influence. By the end of the record, it feels like Uchis has contended with all the shit in her life, observed its perfidy and its beauty, and decided to end on a kind of satisfied confusion. The last song is a breakup song. "Forever is for dreamers" Uchis quips through slow, soulful trumpets, synths, and tinny piano. "That makes you a killer, a killer, a killer" she sings threateningly while violins play in the background, rounding it out on a beautifully low note.
It does not feel out of place for Uchis' album to go from so high to so low, and if you were not listening closely you would probably miss this progression. There's pop, soul, and R&B; songs to make you shake your hips in the kitchen. But through it all is a plain, simple-spoken woman just trying to make sense of all that is going on around her. And while sometimes it's beautiful and sometimes it's ugly, in the end it makes for a damn good record.
is available now via Interscope Records.