Album review: Kelela - Take Me Apart

Album review: Kelela - Take me apart | Random J Pop

There are very few artists I could really compare Kelela to in order to give a point of reference.

Kelela exhibits the sexual earnestness of Janet Jackson. The genre hopping within a space of Janelle Monáe. Has the considerately nuanced and introspective songwriting style of somebody like Hikaru Utada. But has a thing for album narratives of womanhood and love, that is now associated with the likes of Beyoncé. Oh. And she likes to stretch R&B to fit her own form in the same was as Nao.

Bitch. The fuck!?

Kelela is difficult to pin. But for all of the artists that I just named, they are not obvious comparisons. Kelela is very much her own artist with a style that's all her own. And because of that, there's nothing quite like Take me apart, even though Take that apart sounds like a collection of other things.

As per popular albums such as Beyoncé's Lemonade or Hikaru Utada's Fantôme, Take me apart has a narrative about falling out of love and finding it. It feels more like a soundtrack to a situation or a series of situations, as opposed to just songs about situations. You feel like you are moving through chapters of a story as the score changes, and not just being pushed from song to song. But the songs still work on their own.

A large part of this sonic narrative is driven by the sounds of both the music and the way in which Kelela uses her voice. The former of which is impressive, given that some of these songs were passed through a number of producers, yet still manage to sound whole, cohesive and as though they were produced by one person with a singular vision. The production across this entire LP is stellar.

A couple of the producers who helped helm Kelela's Hallucinogen EP return back into the folk for Take me apart, one of which is Arca. Arca is very much known, more so now after their work on Bjork's on Vulnicura, which was about as close to mainstream as Arca has gotten. But their work on Take me apart could be the album that crosses them further into the mainstream, as Take me apart features some of their most radio friendly productions to date. Despite this, there is no compromises to its sound, which is still trippy, textured and melds genres to such a point that you can't categorise the end result.

Take me apart will get lumped under R&B and I don't necessarily agree with that. But whilst some of us are hellbent on trying to box an album into a genre, the consensus with those involved with the creation with this album seemed to be trying to paint a mood and tell a story with sonics first, and whatever genre it falls in, it falls in. Nobody cared. "Frontline" is R&B. "Waitin'" could be filed under Hip-Hop with the way it skirts with Miami bass. But "Onanon" is Pop, whilst "Better" is Alternative. And "Enough" sits on a whole other plane of existence. Bitch. The first time I heard this song, I fell back, had a seizure and my soul left my body to go pussy pop on a cloud for 3 minutes and 43 seconds. The beats. The textures. The vibe. EVERYTHING.

The amazing thing with this album is the sense of journey. Not just from song to song, but within songs themselves. Things feel like they're constantly shifting and stirring. But even so Kelela never gets lost in the songs. She is the one constant throughout that grounds music. Music that often sounds like it'd just escape if you were to let it. It's a remarkable thing given that Kelela doesn't have the biggest or boldest voice. And speaking of Kelela's vocals...

Kelela has a really nice voice. It's difficult to pin technically or even compare. The closest comparison would possibly be Janet Jackson. Not because of their voices themselves, but how they utilise them on songs. Janet's vocals are all about layers and being effected and pulled across tracks to make her sound like an instrument that sits within the music itself. Kelela takes the same approach. Take me apart's sound is varied. Sometimes the music is dense and intricately layered, sometimes it's sparse. At times it knocks hard and at others, it's light. But no matter what, Kelela manages to fit every track. There is no instance on this album where Kelela doesn't suit any of the music, or sounds as though she's out of her element. She sounds comfortable in each song.

Album review: Kelela - Take me apart | Random J Pop

The Janet comparisons do not just stop at how Kelela approaches her use of voice though, but in the DNA of the album itself. Take me apart reminds me greatly of Janet's incredible 1997 album The velvet rope. Even the colour palettes of the album visuals are similar.

The velvet rope was notable for Janet's earnestness about her feelings in relation to every aspect of her life. From her lovers, to her family, to the media. Take me apart has a very similar honesty about it. Kelela is up front about feelings of loneliness, anxiety, rejection and the desire that we all have to be loved, but being frightened to allow ourselves to be. Take me apart explores these feelings via the chronicling of a relationship, or several relationships within a set period of time. But it's far more than 'I love you', 'Ni**a you cheated' or Kelela projecting how she feels onto somebody else. It's an introspective look at what love, or what you think is love, can do to a person and how it makes them feel. But more specifically, the fragility that one can have when they are close to somebody, and then the ritual of having to pick up the pieces once that person has broken your heart and left you blaming yourself.

Take me apart is about dealing with the honesty of your emotions, even if it hurts you. And I'm not sure whether it's intentional or not, but sometimes it takes a while for you to latch onto the subject matter of certain songs, because you're so caught up in the vibes of the music that you're not even paying attention to the lyrics. This is definitely the case during the first half of the album, where most of the bangers reside. "Waitin'" is a song about the anxiety of wanting somebody to notice you. But the song goes so hard and evokes such a feeling of scooping somebody that you may not even catch it on a first listen. It's almost as though the music is a mask to hide the lyrics of anxiety, that same way we attempt to hide it within ourselves. "Enough" has a gorgeous musical backdrop, which evokes a feeling of making love or discovering it and being enthralled with how amazing it is. But the lyrics are about being in a polyamorous relationship and being at the point of realising that sharing somebody just isn't enough for you anymore. And then when you realise that, the music suddenly sounds like being lost.

As the album hits the mid-mark, the music strips back and Kelela's lyrics begin to stop hiding, as she becomes more in tune with the rawness of her feelings and finds herself with nothing to hide behind. It's because of this that I found myself jumping back to earlier tracks. I'd hit a song like "Onanon", which is about the breakdown of communication and the imminent implosion of a relationship, and I wondered how the hell Kelela's shit got so bad out of nowhere. Then the realisation hit that there was a whole damn lead up to this moment across 3 songs that I'd missed, because I was too caught up in arching my back and making it pop to even realise that Kelela's shit been falling apart. Intentional or not, it's a neat thing.

The one thing I would knock this album for is that it loses a lot of steam towards the end. The album hits a point where the songs start to meld into one, and the album closer "Altadena" doesn't really feel like it fits, and certainly wasn't the best way to have closed out this album. But this doesn't ruin the album or the experience of listening to it by any means. Kelela's ability to take heartbreak and pain and make it seem beautiful within music is commendable and a damn art form. Next time somebody tries to get into it with me, I'mma just walk away, put on a silk robe and stand by the window with that shit wide open for a dramatic fabric moment, because that's how Kelela's shit done made me feel. I might be crying and depressed as fuck, but I look good bitch.

Take me apart is a great showcase of Kelela's artistry and knowing her sound and her brand. But also a grand showing of her honesty. Whilst the focus of the album is the usual 'breaks-up to make-ups'; it  also speaks on the need for sex, being forward in what you want from it, and not feeling guilty about the fact that you've moved and not beating yourself up that you haven't. Even though the chronicling of Kelela's story is personal to her, there's universality in it and there will be at least one song you can see yourself in. And even if you can't, you'll appreciate the ride.


Album highlights:
■ Waiting 🔥
■ Take Me Apart 🔥
■ Enough 🏆
■ Better
■ Truth or Dare 🔥
■ S.O.S
■ Onanon 🔥
■ Turn to Dust