Review: Kali Uchis’ ‘Isolation’ Proves She’s an Exciting Young Talent
The music Kali Uchis summons on this fascinating debut album doesn’t refer to a particular place or time. Like Beck or Outkast, she’s a pop weirdo who works grooves that seem vintage and futuristic at the same moment. She grabs splashes of funk, bossa, reggaeton and soul and blankets them with a sunbaked, psychedelic wooziness. Her specialty is flashbacks, not throwbacks. Blink and the picture changes again.
Uchis is a 24-year-old born in the U.S. who grew up in Pereira, Colombia and northern Virginia. At 17 she was living in her car, making tracks and dreaming of directing films. At 18, she released a mixtape, Drunken Babel, where bedroom art-pop and R&B rubbed up against ghostly guitar tunes.
Isolation is a more hi-def version of the world beyond genre sketched by that mixtape. Thundercat, Damon Albarn, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and a slew of Kendrick Lamar collaborators (Sounwave, Steve Lacy, Badbadnotgood) all make contributions, but the vibe is hers alone. Many of the songs revolve around the desire to give it all, and the demand to get it all in return. “Tyrant” finds her mulling sexual politics over a slow-motion dancehall beat; “Teeth in My Neck” piles up come-ons atop a rollerskating bounce; “In My Dreams” is a lo-fi keyboard definition of a paradise where the only worry is what outfit to wear; “Nuestro Planeta” is a reggaeton remembrance of a lost world built for two. Promising to take your money and raise the price, looking for a hero in the mirror, running her errands in the sweater of an ex who put her heart through a shredder, Uchis is a woman on the verge, willing to share her vertiginous thrills and spills. Thank her later.