Kali Uchis | Isolation Album Review

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8.4/10

Kali Uchis' first effort is a delightful mix of funk, soul and hip-hop, drenched in neon and littered with 80s synths. Fans of R&B and quirky pop are in for a treat as Isolation is a much needed break from the trap-dominated charts.

First impressions dictate that Isolation could be just another hip-hop record plagued by trap, destined for several weeks at the top of the album charts before Kali Uchis is cemented as a somewhat alternative option for the hipster’s Rita Ora or Nicki Minaj. What Isolation actually delivers is a provocative and yet honest collection of sun-soaked lo-fi beats and neo-soul.

Uchis’ debut opens with the quaint ‘Body Language’; a smooth introduction enveloped in bossa nova and funk, with the singer’s demands of “Just come closer” pushing an open invitation. The track quickly blurs into ‘Miami’, which (with help from Boston rapper BIA) twinkles in hazy flair, and shows Uchis off as a manipulator of 80s-reminiscent pop fused with 90s R&B rhythms; only further securing the notion that she is content in being enticing and soft as opposed to antagonistic and brash.

Uchis refrains from using the demeanour of the Stefflon Dons and the Cardi Bs - she doesn’t need to remind us she’s the baddest girl around, as her confidence oozes throughout the record with originality and charm. Uchis seems as comfortable in her own skin singing these tracks as she looks on the album cover; surrounded by blue silk in a seductive pose.

The record is no doubt as polished as it is due to the large number of notable features - Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins, Damon Albarn, Kevin Parker and BadBadNotGood all make an appearance as producers or collaborators. Their work combined with the cleverly and sparingly placed interludes helps divide the album between thick, neon-drenched highlights and subtle, dance-able intervals.

‘Flight 22’ allows for a soulful approach; one that would be fitting in a modern coming-of-age film depicting the ups and downs of the American teen, and bears close resemblance to artists bringing out similar work today, like ‘Nakkamurra’ by Hiatus Kaiyote or ‘In Your Eyes’ by BadBadNotGood ft. Charlotte Day Wilson - not a farfetch'd comparison considering the latter artist is the producer on track 13; ‘Tomorrow’.

It quickly becomes clear that Uchis is something of an outsider; perhaps the Latin-American Gwen Stefani. As for Isolation, if Childish Gambino’s short, warm track ‘Urn’ was a whole record, this would be it. For the most part, the album is refreshingly consistent - from the aforementioned starry-eyed single to ‘Dead To Me’; a rhythmic filler track featuring house synths which begs to be listened to at night, reinforcing Isolation as an album destined to be played on nighttime journeys through blinding city lights, or in the waning hours of beach parties from Florida Keys to Bora Bora.

Granted, not every song emits sunshine and crushed velvet - ‘In My Dreams’ is instantly noticeable helped by the unmistakable touch of Damon Albarn, but fails to be as catchy with great pop hooks as the 5 or 6 tracks before it - the song would fit better on Gorillaz’ 2010 release Plastic Beach, as it feels like a Gorillaz song featuring Kali Uchis than her own original work. ‘Nuestro Planeta’, despite being in Spanish with some sensual vocals from reggaeton artist Reykon, falls short of standing out - instead, it could be thrown in with the dozens of other forgettable Latin American pop tracks invading the singles charts, which are most at home in over-priced nightclubs doused in vodka.

It is around the halfway point that the placement of the interludes really shines, however. ‘Gotta Get Up’ just feels right after the booming synths and late night bass of the previous tracks, so it’s the perfect place for the Sunday morning record of the album, allowing time to reflect.

Isolation wraps up beautifully, just as it becomes clear that it sounds like the background music in a Yoko Honda art piece, starting with ‘Tomorrow’, which can be described as if Melody’s Echo Chamber and Børns had a love child resembling a Brazilian Amy Winehouse with a voice like velvet. This is arguably the highlight of the album, although the huge impact made with the cooperation of funk legend Bootsy Collins, outlandish rapper Tyler, The Creator and soulful instrumentalists BadBadNotGood on ‘After The Storm’ cannot be understated.

Uchis should be pleased with her first effort. Not only is it difficult to stand out among waves of successful female stars - the Beyonces, the Rihannas and the Taylor Swifts - it is even harder to sound so comfortable doing it. Isolation is a mature and precise pop record, helped along by ethereal production, a multitude of apt features and Uchis’ own hypnotising voice which should surely give her the reputation she deserves.