Kelela - Take Me Apart - Review
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critics' view

At the climax of the second season on HBO's Insecure, Issa Dee, one of the show's protagonists, suddenly snaps and trashes her entire apartment. In a season filled with seething frustration, humiliation, failed romance and emotional weariness for her character, it's a cathartic moment the show had been slowly building towards. The entire scene, from the simmering emotional tension to its volatile release, is perfectly soundtracked by "Frontline," the opening song on Kelela's long-anticipated debut album, Take Me Apart.

It's been four years since Kelela's 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me, codified the sound of "future R&B" alongside the likes of FKA Twigs, Tinashe, Dawn Richard and Jessy Lanza. Since then, she released just six more songs, teaming up with Arca to push her sound even further. Take Me Apart was six years in the making, and Kelela's decision to take her time went against the pressure that sudden fame put upon her. As she said in a recent profile in The FADER, new external voices had caused doubt: "If you were tight, you would've done it [by now]." Take Me Apart is well worth the wait. Working with a dream team of modern music makers—Arca, The xx's Romy Madley Croft, Kingdom and Ariel Rechtshaid—Kelela navigates from the abstract fringes of club music towards the pop center on her own terms. "Frontline" begins with a synth shimmer from Jam City, and goes on to include heels clopping on concrete, the roar of passing cars, a bleeping car alarm and Kelela's voice, layered into alluring and defiant shapes. She sings of a relationship that almost broke her down, before a brusque line comes out: "Cry and talk about it, baby / But it ain't no use / See you wasn't lookin' when I pushed."

Romance is the primary subject matter of R&B, but Kelela stakes out the purgatorial spaces of modern love: the disintegrating ends of a relationship, the vagaries of being single, the fears and giddiness of letting someone new draw close. Take Me Apart is at its best when documenting these states. Kelela makes small details resonate: hearing from an ex-lover on her birthday on "Better," a finger in her mouth on "S.O.S.," her girls waiting in the car behind her as she tells a potential lover the score on "LMK." The sonic details match the lyrics. There are 13 producers credited on the album, yet it speaks to Kelela's vision that it all moves as one piece. The title track likens her passion to a body of water, flowing from an ethereal opening to a thrilling, white-water rush at the chorus. On the solemn industrial ballad "Better," her harmonies, amid a metallic churn, become a hall of mirrors, as if to reflect the conflicting voices in her head. "LMK" conveys gravitas through glib text-speak, the flanged bass menacing behind her high, airy coos.

Near the album's end, a new relationship looms on the horizon and the emotions grow more fraught. "Onanon" moves closest to club velocity. Kelela's voice stutter-steps on the beat and the bass grows increasingly claustrophobic as she details a contentious relationship that ends not in a breakup but a breakdown. Producer Dubbel Dutch mixes "O Superman" ahhs with slow-motion dubstep wobbles on "Blue Light." But it's the way that Kelela sings "my chains they come falling down," her voice high and keening at the word "falling," that will leave you feeling similarly vulnerable. The album's most breathtaking moment comes on "Turn To Dust," as Arca wraps heaving pizzicato strings around Kelela's whispers. "Boy you're moving slow / But I can't shake you off," she confesses. Patience for Take Me Apart validates her audience who saw her as the future from the start. You won't soon break free of it.

Andy Beta
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