Album review: Kelela - TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES

Album review: Kelela - TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES | Random J Pop

Kelela’s debut album Take Me Apart featured a large number of collaborators. Some songs passed so many hands that they had up to 6 credited producers. And yet despite the long list of collaborators, the album still felt whole and consistent. Every song shared a sound beyond Kelela’s voice. TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES features 20 remixers, and similarly the whole album manages to sound cohesive and run from top to bottom. But even more remarkable, it manages to feel like it’s part of the same universe as Take Me Apart, and not some wholly separate thing that Kelela didn’t sign off on.

Some of us want different things from remixes. Some of us want a remix to just be an elevated version of the original song or to do all of the things that we felt the original song should have. With TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES the intent with each song was different. In Kelela’s own words...

This project has been evolving in my mind since I was deep in recording Take Me Apart. I obsessed over production choices on the album and my only solace was knowing that the songs would be reimagined in this way.

This gives TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES a very different energy to your regular remix album - because it’s not just the vocals from Take Me Apart over a bunch of beats, but more of an alternate version of the album itself. I’m currently watching Marvel’s Loki, so I’ll use this analogy. And if you’ve watched Into the Spider-Verse y’all will get it. To me, TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES sounds like an alternate reality variant of the original album.

Album review: Kelela - TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES | Random J Pop

When the tracklisting for TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES first released, I had reservations about how long it was. Gurl. 20 tracks!? And then there was the fact that some songs had more than one remix. But no two songs on this album sound the same, even the remixes of the same song; which speaks to not only the talent involved, but the curation of the talent (we gon’ get to that). And for a 20 track album, this shit flies by.

Each collaborator brings their own unique flair to the songs. And something to note about the talent involved with this album, is that they are all either Black, of colour, queer, or a combination of the two. So needless to say this album has FLAVOUR. Kelela was clearly very specific about who she wanted on this project, and was not precious about everybody involved bringing themselves to their respective remixes. Divoli S'vere is based in New York and in the Ballroom scene, so his remix of “Truth or Dare” is a vogue jam with all the crashes for the girls to dip on. Joey LaBeija is a Puerto Rican and from the Bronx, so his remix of “Better” has reggaeton vibes. LSDXOXO is a Philly native who is now a resident DJ in Berlin, so his remix of “Truth or Dare” has a dirty club groove. But even with each contributor bringing their own flavour to the table, the whole of TAKE ME A_PART still feels like a considered body of work adjacent to the original album. There’s a unity to this album, which makes me wonder how much interaction there was between everybody who’s involved. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to chalk the sense of unity up to the shared experience that all of the collaborators have of being part of minority groups. But it could just be an amazing coincidence. Or that Kelela was flinging files back and forth. Either way, a remix album of 20 collaborators across 20 tracks which sounds cohesive and like a whole body of work is impressive.

So many creative liberties were taken with some of these remixes, and the approaches taken with some of these songs is incredible. Kaytranada’s remix of “Waitin’” is exactly what you’d expect from him. Not only is it a great remix and a complete shift in energy from the original, but we don’t get a drop until nearly 3 minutes into the song. Kaytranada is rude. DJ Lag takes the ominous Evanescence leaning, 2-step lite "Onanon" and turns it into a gqom joint. The What’s Really Good remix of “LMK” is a smooth “Ladies Night” type of affair, where as Mountain’s remix of the song is a 130 BPM monster of a dance cut with a Chicago House backbeat, which is only a few degrees away from Divoli S'vere’s Ballroom flip of “Truth of Dare”. And then you have Kareem Lofty’s take on “Turn to Dust” and Nathaniel W. James and Dave Quam’s “Waitin’” - both of which are predominantly instrumental, with none of Kelela’s vocals being introduced until minutes in. Both remixes are approached almost like scores to a scene. Then the album ends with “Enough”, which is a complete deconstruction of the original song, which was easily one of the most rich, layered and dense productions on Take Me Apart, and here it is quite literally taken apart and stripped back to nothing but Kelela and a harp.

Album review: Kelela - TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES | Random J Pop

TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES manages to do something unique for a remix album, in that despite completely reworking all of the songs from Take Me Apart it doesn’t feel like this wholly separate, disconnected thing. It feels very much like a companion. So much so that there are versions of songs on here that could sit on Take Me Apart. There was a real consideration taken with keeping the songs within the soundscape of Take Me Apart, but really pushing the boundaries of that soundscape as far as possible. It shows not only great bravery and trust on Kelela’s part, but also the power and the clarity of her vision. Kelela really cares about these songs, and all of the collaborators respect Kelela’s care to such a point that they’ve crafted these amazing remixes which feel tethered to the original material beyond just featuring Kelela’s vocals. They build on the world she and her team of producers put out into ours in 2017.

One of the things I adored about Take Me Apart was how it managed to create this whole world with not only the story telling, but with sounds. Every time I listen to a song from it, it’s like I’ve jumped into a painting from Super Mario 64. TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES does the exact same thing. I listen to these remixes and it’s like being in alternate reality, where so much feels familiar, but also completely different.

Kelela has a really nice voice, but it wasn't something that always stood out on Take Me Apart because of the density of the productions which almost melded Kelela into the music itself. Sometimes it felt like Kelela's vocals were intentionally hiding in songs. Oddly enough, Kelela's vocals feel far more forward and centred on TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES. In some instances Kelela's vocals sound so different when they’re plucked out of the multitude of layers of the original productions, that they sound new, and in some cases they are. Kelela definitely re-recorded vocals for a couple of these remixes, but in other songs (notably in the Kaytranada remix of “Waitin’”) there are new ad-libs here and there that those familiar with the original song will notice - which I think are unused vocals from the original sessions as opposed to re-recordings. Regardless. Kelela’s voice comes through on this album, despite half of the songs either stripping her vocals back or chopping them completely. There's a directness and forward placement to where Kelela's vocals are placed on this album, verses the original Take Me Apart where her vocals always sat behind or within the music.

Album review: Kelela - TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES | Random J Pop

TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES is one of those really unfortunate instances of an album which is so good, hits every single mark, had foresight on trends - yet was paid absolute dust. This album gives you rap, it gives you house, it gives you afrobeats, it gives you go-go. This shit is club ready. It’s radio ready. It’s just READY. I’d even argue that there is an accessibility that TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES has over the original album, because it has far more definable sounds and genres compared to the nebulous sound of the original. As much as I adore the sound of Take Me Apart, I know we live in a world where people love labels and music they can categorise, and some would dismiss the album simply because they can’t pigeon hole it.

TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES is one of the best remix albums I’ve heard in a long while. Very seldom do remix albums feel essential in an artist's discography, but this right here truly is. It expands the world and the experience of the original album in so many cool ways, without jeopardising or bastardising any of it.