Review: Kali Uchis - Isolation "A Hidden Soulful Gem That Truly Shines"

Kali Uchis - Isolation

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★★★★★

Don't be fooled by the title, Kali Uchis’ debut record is an intoxicating mix of her Colombian Reggae roots and Modern RnB inspirations which warmly invite you in to explore her world.

“Like a feather brushing across the top of your skin” is how 23 year-old Colombian-American Kali Uchis aptly described the opening to this highly anticipated, quickly announced yet long in gestation debut album. The record opens with the sounds of Uchis’ enticing groans and coo’s on ‘Body Language.’ Her tones soothing and charming like a hummingbird as she invites you to come “Closer, come closer” into her world. Despite the title, over the course of ’Isolation’ 50 minutes Uchis’ delicately embraces her Colombian roots through reggaeton, latino and modern RnB influences without faltering or stalling once. Seclusion has never sounded so appealing.

Despite many comparisons to the neo-soul vibes made popular by the late Amy Winehouse, whose influences can be definitely felt early on as she croons “He said he’d want me in his video like ‘Bound 1’/But why would I be Kim, I could be Kanye.” lamenting her ex-lovers controlling attitude. It would, however, be much more fitting to place Uchis as a tropical and captivating contemporary similar to that of SZA rather than Winehouse. especially with tracks such as ‘Just A Stranger’ which flirts between the two territories of chart hit and RnB jam,  with it’s “She don’t want love, she wants my hundred dollar bills” hook from Steve Lacey (of The Internet) that buries into your consciousness due to it’s delightful hip-hop contrast to Uchis’ sultry vocal styles.

Each song feels fine-tuned and it’s own entity, yet all cohesive and part of the same package. for instance one moment you’re listening to the exquisitely brutal, yet upbeat ‘Dead To Me’ which truly highlights Uchis sarcastic wit that flows throughout her lyrics before you’re then transported by the reggaeton beats of the entirely Latin ‘Nuestro Planeta’ that despite it's complete shift in language manages to keep the record thematically whole. It also has to be noted, Kali Uchis has a refreshingly candid opinion of Latin music’s appropriation into mainstream culture, telling Pitchfork “It’s annoying. I’ve always been representing where I come from, so I don’t intend to jump on that because it’s hot right now.”

When the record was initially announced with its tracklist only a couple weeks ago, music critics were quick to highlight the vast amount of collaborators featured across Isolation’s 15 tracks, however this does Uchis’ debut a huge injustice as you’ll quickly hear how she elevates the talents of those around her, not vice versa. ‘In My Dreams’ is a combination of Damon Albarn’s trademark Gorillaz beats refocused to highlight Uchis’s literal dreamlike woozy vocals. ‘Tyrant’ the collaboration with upcoming British songstress Jorja Smith combines the pair into a beautiful synergetic force, constantly harmonizing throughout the fantastic slow jam.

‘After The Storm’ is a collaboration in the most traditional sense, featuring the legendary Bootsy Collins, an early inspiration for Uchis, who adds a stellar jazz edge to the track that feels like an inspired choice, you can sense the pairs natural chemistry throughout. The track is topped off with a brief but well-composed verse from Tyler, The Creator, It’s just a shame he isn’t given a few more lines to work with. 

A particular highlight on the record is ‘Feel Like A Fool’, a delightfully dark doo-wop full of intense imagery which you can easily vision being sung by The Supremes with its Motown inspired beats and chorus, but then you’re caught off guard by the macabre lyrics of Uchis, as she vividly describes her heart being shredded by a lover whose “cigarette burned holes through my T-shirt” all whilst singing with a chirpy demeanour. Not too unlike ‘Dead To Me.’

It cannot be understated how remarkable of a debut Uchis has crafted here, after six years of waiting for a solid and cohesive collection of material to match the early acclaimed mixtapes, Uchis doesn’t only deliver, she continues to exceed expectations.

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