Album Review: Take Me Apart, by Kelela

by on October 9, 2017

Posted in: Album Review, Electronic, R&B / Soul

Weirdly, the first thing to pop into my head after listening to Kelela’s new album, Take Me Apart, was Vin Diesel. More specifically, the infamous scene from his 2002 extreme sports/cyberpunk-lite flick XXX, in which he jumps over an exploding building on a motorbike. The stunt, filmed with nine different cameras, shows his leap from nearly fifteen angles. Deconstructed, the 5-second explosion stretches out to feel like an eternity.

Kelela’s music creates a world as dissimilar as possible to those of hyper-masculine action movies, but its epic scale and cubist editing remain salient points of comparison. The massive explosion being jumped through on Take Me Apart is a break-up’s aftermath, which is sped up, slowed down, zoomed in and out of, examined from the past, present and future, and filtered through loneliness, connection, confusion, self-reflection, sensuality, vulnerability and emotional growth. Quiet moments (“Enough,” “Jupiter,” “Bluff”) prove epic; casually fun jams (“LMK,” “Truth or Dare”) turn heart-pounding with twin feelings of freedom and anxiety. Throughout the album, moving on means moving inwards. “I think I know me now, I think I know,” echoes through the end of “Jupiter.”

The album’s futuristic production, anchored by Arca and Jam City, leans into crystalline edits of 90’s R&B grooves, but also includes some of Kelela’s most spacey, minimalist soundscapes to date. Like on previous work, though, her voice cuts through as each track’s focal point, at once impossibly soft and powerfully assertive. The album’s name, Take Me Apart, draws on this duality between vulnerability and autonomy. Naked on the cover art, staring straight through the listener, Kelela leaves no doubt that her vulnerability is a radical source of strength. “Don’t say you’re in love / until you learn to take me apart,” she commands on the title track.

By the end of the scene in XXX, we see Vin Diesel land safely on the ground. We never see Kelela do the same. Instead we see searches for a new path — thrilling new flings (“Take Me Apart,” “S.O.S.,” “Blue Light”), forays into getting back together (“Waitin’,” “Enough,” “Bluff”) and ultimately, acceptance of the relationship’s fatal flaws (“Onanon,” “Turn to Dust”). Finally on album closer “Altadena,” she lets go of the past. “Nothing to be said or done / It’s not just me, it’s everyone / Let me remind you…” In the end, a break-up is not like an explosion, at least not in how we move through them. Explosions fizzle out, and gravity brings you (or Vin Diesel) back down to Earth. Important break-ups last forever as a part of you, seemingly reorienting the gravity of the universe. Through beautiful, brutal vulnerability, Kelela puts herself in control of this new gravity, and floats serenely toward the future.

RIYL: Solange, FKA Twigs, Jessy Lanza

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