Kali Uchis Transcends Boundaries and Boxes on “Isolation” Album
Issue   |   Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:33

In her debut album, “Isolation,” Kali Uchis transcends the R&B genre by sharing a raw take on her own narrative as a romance-seeking, Colombian-American woman.

On the surface, “Isolation” passes as a marketable pop-chart pleaser, but a closer look reveals an intricate interweaving of bilingual lyricism and unusually-sourced collaborations that create a deft, genre-defying album. A relative newcomer to the R&B scene, Kali Uchis has quietly shared singles since her 2014 release of “Know What I Want.” In approaching “Isolation,” though, Uchis shows no reserve in stating her musical prowess despite her modest start; however, she is careful to not disregard her humble, bubblegum roots.

Mirroring her earlier work’s focus on hopeless romanticism, Uchis opens “Isolation” with the welcomingly sensual track “Body Language.” The disorienting opening notes of the piece sound like an echo chamber and form a satisfying, transformative greeting when partnered with the warm undertones of Uchis’ Colombian-influenced melody. The audience fades into Uchis’ beach-side life as she invites us to “come closer, come closer” into her private, cinematic world. Uchis’ impressive vocal range playfully explores the dreamy romanticism of moving forward with or without her partner, introducing a new, softened fatalism into her verses.

Her familiar lyrical, romantic lamentations become a bit more aspirational and even confrontational, as she floats into her second track, “Miami.” The track maintains a deceptively sensual tone as Uchis poses a subtle yet potent critique of her relationship with the American Dream. Drawing on her past, she cites her dual citizenship in both Colombia and America, describing how her former relationships informed her choice to pursue her musical career. Referencing American cultural icons Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Uchis contemplates her lovers’ desire to keep her down, singing, “He said he’d want me in his video like Bound One/ But why would I be Kim? I could be Kanye in the land of opportunity and palm trees.” Uchis continues to revisit her rise to fame as a romantic and cultural struggle through the album’s following tracks “Tyrant” and “Your Teeth in My Neck,” in which she thoughtfully asks, “Kill us all off, they’d take our worth they pay us dirt. Is it worth it? Is it worth it?”

Kali Uchis’ animosity towards her economic and romantic struggles becomes perplexingly intertwined for both the singer and the audience, with the dual frustrations culminating in her collaboration with Steve Lacy of The Internet. The pair teams up on “Just A Stranger,” which feels like a dystopian lullaby turned beachy pop anthem under Lacy’s thoughtful production. Uchis’ vocals draw upon a power and ironic poppiness reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, crooning “When bellies are hungry, but there ain’t no money you get it and don’t care how … I’m the one they love to hate, I’m the one who will survive.”
Despite sometimes approaching points of resilience and inner conflict in tracks such as “Just A Stranger” and her heartbreaking Spanish-language track “Nuestro Planeta,” Uchis often breaks the theme of reluctant romances and challenging realities to slip into escapist fantasies.

From the indulgent, 80’s-synth-inspired dance track “Dead to Me” to the upbeat eight-bit-inspired “In My Dreams” (featuring Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn), Uchis shows a range that demonstrates an underlying message of self-empowerment and self-discovery within her new lifestyle.

Uchis showcases the most surprising thematic break from her past work in “After the Storm,” which features alternative rapper Tyler the Creator and legendary 1970’s bassist Bootsy Collins. After detailing the hardships of her life, Uchis’ direction changes as she speaks to the importance of recognizing the struggles of those around us. She asks her audience to consider that every human experience is far more complex than is psychologically fathomable. Uchis does not condemn herself or those around her for living in a mode of self-interest, though, and instead offers reassurance and words of encouragement: “If you need a hero, just look in the mirror … Everybody’s going through it, but you just can’t give up now ‘ cause you gotta save yourself.”

From sultry serenades to pensive Spanish poeticism, Uchis’ “Isolation” covers a range of raw emotions by breaking industry and genre expectations. On a level far deeper than releasing a transformative album, Uchis has mastered a level of self and cultural reflection with her contemplation of the intersections of romanticism and turbulent reality in the modern world. Her eclectic assortment of poetry, collaborations and unique perspective promise the audience that Uchis has much more to share in albums yet to come.