CMU Approved

Approved 2017: Kelela

By | Published on Thursday 21 December 2017


Every day this week, we’ll be looking at the last twelve months for one of our favourite artists of 2017. Today, Kelela…

When Kelela released her hugely acclaimed mixtape – ‘Cut 4 Me’ – in 2013, it placed her high upon a wave of new artists shifting R&B into new places.

Listening back to it now, compared to her 2017 debut album proper ‘Take Me Apart’, it’s remarkable how rough it sounds. Not that it wasn’t (and still isn’t) a slick, innovative piece of work, but ‘Take Me Apart’ is so meticulous, and takes her ideas so much further.

‘Take Me Apart’ was not an album made quickly. Coming four years after ‘Cut 4 Me’, initial drafts of some of its songs date back to before that mixtape came out.

It’s not really the done thing for an artist so early in their career to work at such a leisurely pace. Especially when Kelela had already worried, before even working on her first songs, that she’d left it too late to pursue a career in music.

However, the proof that her instinct to work, rework and finesse the finished LP was the right one is right there in the music.

The Jam City-produced opening track, ‘Frontline’, immediately sets a futuristic tone for the album with a looping synth line and gentle bass notes. Then comes the first wave of Kelela’s vocals, and you know straight away that you’re in safe hands. As methodically crafted as the music on the record is, it never overshadows that voice.

“Everybody [who worked on the album] has a track, or more than one track, that makes them feel like ‘this is my shit’ and ‘this is home to me'”, she recently told Vulture. “This is what I consider to be zero. For me, this record has been hard to make because I don’t have a singular zero, meaning, there’s not a song where I’m not stretching”.

She adds: “The vocals are a constant – no matter what I sing over, I sing the way that I sing, and it comes from this R&B space. That is the anchor”.

Lyrically, the songs on the album are arranged to follow the end of one relationship through to the beginning of another. Throughout, there’s a pleasing balance of confidence and vulnerability – of knowing what you want and still being unsure of it at times. It’s Kelela’s fragility that ultimately feeds the sense of power felt in her presentation of herself.

For all the positive effects of making this album slowly, Kelela feels like an artist who has now really hit her stride. And she herself has said she wants to find a quicker way of working in the future. If she can do that without losing her grasp on what makes her music so good, then her prompt return will be most welcome.

Watch the video for ‘Blue Light’ here:

Listen to (almost) ever artist featured in the CMU Approved column in 2017 on this Spotify playlist.