This Kelela article was written by Eleanor Wallace, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Sam Forsdick
Kelela commences with ‘A Message’ to her ex-boyfriend, pounding forward in a mist of synths and retreating again. We are held captivated by the heavy pulsation, like listening to our own slow heartbeat. Intimate human connection is her strength; the tonal capabilities of her voice enable her to go from angelic and ethereal to affronted and sultry as she recounts a lost romance.
The timeline is in reverse, as she goes from the “ex-girlfriend” in the opener, to a woman enchanted in a new relationship doing “anything for the high”. Kelela defines herself against her, majority male, competitors in RnB by singing about sex without softening the subject. It’s lustful, sometimes callous, and often engrossing, like in ‘Gomenasai’ when she sings “What’s my name? Better say it twice / You’re My Bitch Tonight”. This track and ‘The High’ are where she dominates. There are often a lot of effects on top of her vocals, particularly reverb, so in these instances where this is missing, the result is all the more sobering.
The title track is the least likeable. The off-beat synths are chaotic and her vocals are drowned in effects, to the point where the mind-bending metaphor gets a little old. However, the eardrum-bursting bass notes and unexpected empty spaces show Kelela’s affection for psychedelia, which is increasingly being found in popular music (take A$AP Rocky’s ‘LSD’, for example). The weirder it gets, the more we cannot get enough.
The EP is going in a great direction for a debut album. The backwards love story is wonderfully told; unforgiving and full of grief. Her vocals are more prominent than on her 2013 mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’, which gives her the pedestal she deserves. Her collaboration with Arca and DJ Dahi has spawned an impressively polished sound, but most importantly, on ‘Hallucinogen’, Kelela thrives as a singular, self-ruling entity.
‘Hallucinogen’ is out now via Cherry Coffee Music