(Photos by Nick Knight)
(Written by Louis Cano)
While many album reviews come out almost instantly, I decided to take my time with this one so I could dive into the universe Kali Uchis crafted with her debut album, Isolation. After taking my time with it, I’d be upset if Uchis doesn’t become a household name soon because Isolation isn’t your average debut album. It stands out amongst other debut albums with its poetic lyrics, ethereal melodies, and outstanding production. Alongside those factors, she has a great line up of features such as Steve Lacy, Jorja Smith, Tyler, The Creator, BIA, Reykon, and Bootsy Collins.
The moment you hit play, you’re uncaptured into Uchis’ world with a blissful intro, Body Language, it gives you a Bossa Nova vibe which isn’t something you hear in music often today. The song makes you feel like you’re on the beach in Miami with a cocktail in your hand and a blunt in the other. Which is ironic because the song fades into Miami which features the Perico Princess, BIA. It’s a mix between 80s and a trap beat. This is the type of song you play in the car (preferably a low rider) with your friends, “las cabrónsitas,” on your way to a party. The song has a similar concept to “Ridin’ Round,” making that bag and not needing anyone to reach the “land of opportunities and palm trees.” Just like RR, this is a bad bitch anthem.
Miami then transitions into Just a Stranger which features The Internet’s, Steve Lacy. Romil from BROCKHAMPTON worked alongside Lacy to produce the track. Uchis and Lacy have collaborated in the past (Only Girl) so it was really nice to get another collab from them. The song basically revolves around surviving in a universe full of hateful and judgmental assholes. “Go and say what you want, you are just a stranger. Watching from the bleachers ’cause you can’t take the danger,” these people constantly criticize Uchis for how she’s making her money but would never be capable of doing the things she’s done for it. In the song you can tell that she has no time for love and that her main priority is success and making it to the top while still being able to have some fun here and there.
You know when you’re madly in love with your vato to the point where nothing else in the world matters as long as you’re together? That’s Flight 22 for you. “And baby we’re not gonna make it, at least I’m going down with you.” It’s a soulful track Uchis wrote about the time Yung Gleesh and her met at the airport. In 2015, the demo was accidentally uploaded with a few other demos on Soundcloud. Having heard it back then you can hear how much more production and instruments were added, it’s sounds whole. Her love for this man is unconditional and regardless what her friends say, she’ll continue to be with him because they share a love so powerful.
One of the songs many fans were itching to hear was Your Teeth In My Neck. Uchis has played it numerous of times at her shows and it’s so good to finally hear the studio version. After hearing it, it feels more mellow but still up-tempo, compared to hearing the live version. Towards the end of the song there is a beautiful breakdown where her vocals magically clash with some mesmerizing ad libs. The song that follows is Uchis’ first single off the album, Tyrant featuring British singer, Jorja Smith. This song came out last year while we transitioned into summer which was intelligent because then we had a summer bop. The song gave us a small peek into the universe Uchis crafting with this album.
The next song really caught my attention with its bold lyrics and hyper-rhythmic beat. Dead To Me captures the complexity of dealing with someone who can’t seem to get your name out of their mouth, no matter how much you block them out, they can’t seem to grasp the concept of them being non-existent to you. It then transitions to the second single off the album, Nuestro Planeta, featuring Colombian rapper Reykon. Hearing an artist embrace their culture through music is always delightful, especially when Uchis does it because she knows how to execute it well. I remember back to when the song was released and there was a fair percentage of people who didn’t understand a word she was singing but they didn’t care because they were still able to vibe to the song which is why NP is so special. The song is even more special because she was able to do a video for it in her home country, Colombia. Just like in Ridin’ Round she was able to display some essence of Colombia in the video while adding her own spice to it.
In My Dreams, this song caught me off guard because it sounded different then everything before it. Before Isolation came out she had said that it’d be a mix of genres which is correct but I never imagined a song like this on the album. Somehow it seemed to fit perfectly with the other tracks. How? While it may have been a whole different sound, it was still her. It’s very 8-bit futuristic song with deep lyrics about not wanting to wake up from her own utopia that was created within a dream. “Every day is a holiday when you’re living inside your dreams. Why would anyone stay awake after being so sound asleep?” It’s like, why face reality when everything is so much better and calm in your sleep? Damon Albarn who produced the song, later chimes in with “the moments we are happiest, are the moments that we don’t exist.” It’s almost as if these dreams were real but you wake up and realize that it was all a blur. Ironically, the next song is Gotta Get Up (Interlude). It’s like a continuation to In My Dreams because she sings about the struggle of getting up because everything seemed so picture perfect in her dreams but it’s getting tiring sleeping in all the time. She wants to find herself something worthy of her getting up. Something real. I will also say that this is a great example of what an interlude should sound like. I’ve heard many that sound more like unfinished songs that were cut short to fill up an album but Uchis was able to keep it short and beautifully minimal.
Another one of my personal favorites is Tomorrow, it was produced by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. It’s a very psychedelic and soulful song about setting yourself free from reality and all the hopelessness you’re feeling, no matter what repercussions may follow, you gotta just go for it and never look back. The outro is hypnotic and mesmerizing. Uchis urges her lover to come along with her because she doesn’t plan on going back but she assures him that they’ll be together forever. “Las horas se me hacen siglos aquí, dame un beso que me dure una eternidad porque nunca voy a regresar, nunca. Te invito si quieres, y como un cometa en el cielo, nos quemaremos juntos.”
Listening to “Coming Home (Interlude)” it felt like she’s singing about facing reality and realizing that no matter what you do, there will always be people who are going to harshly criticize you and you can’t do much about it but move along and not let them phase you. As we come close to finishing the album we make one more familiar pit stop when After The Storm starts playing. It’s the third single off the album and it features Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins. Every time Uchis and Tyler have come together for a song, it always comes out being a banger. They’re both beyond creative individuals so they always end up creating eccentric and invigorating music. This song is a very “pick me up” anthem, she encourages listeners to never give up regardless of how stressful and dreading their situation may seem, they can overcome anything if they just try hard enough.
Feel Like a Fool. My god. The jazzy soulful instruments, lush vocals, and heartfelt lyrics constructed a work of art. Listening to this song was an emotional rollercoaster with the meaning behind the song and Amy Winehouse vibe I got from it. Uchis sings about her discovering her lover has been cheating on her and how much it’s hurt her. “I can’t look, closed my eyes. Can’t believe it could look in mine.” Despise the unfaithfulness she can’t seem to let him go which makes her Feel Like a Fool because she knows she could be doing better but there’s something about this lover that has got her hooked.
Closing the album out is Killer, another one of my personal favorites. Now this is another song Uchis played live at her shows and it’s also one of the very first songs she wrote for the album. The production behind this song is sonically pleasing and simply astonishing. In this song Kali sings about a lover who’s truly hurt her and destroyed the future they could’ve created together. “And if you loved me, you would never do this. Our future’s battered and bloody, you’re so fucking ruthless.” While the tone of her vocals are soft, it feels almost as if she’s angry with this lover for all the damage they caused which is why she calls them a Killer.
Kali Uchis has truly outdone herself with this album and it just excites me for what is next to come. While she has put out 2 other projects in the past, it feels like this is still only the beginning of her journey.
Pack your bags, buy Isolation, and never look back.