Kali Uchis gets her foot in the door with ‘Isolation’

Henry Netherland

Courtesy of iTunes

In her short career as a performer, R&B singer Kali Uchis has managed to nab collaborations with some pretty big names including Snoop Dogg, Gorillaz and most importantly Tyler, the Creator. Now in 2018 she makes her major debut putting herself in the limelight.

I have always thought Uchis’ music was listenable, but unengaging due to her lack of dynamacy. In my opinion, she comes off as a safer Amy Winehouse. While I have enjoyed her as a featured artist—specifically on Tyler, the Creator’s recent output—I questioned whether or not she was an interesting enough of an artist to warrant a successful major solo project.

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Now the album has dropped and it is much more interesting than I had anticipated.

The intro cut, “Body Language,” is a breezy way to kick off the record, but it is an accurate portrayal for what to expect on “Isolation.” There is not a lot to comment on because the track is so short, except for the guitar, which is speedily strummed creating a nice blend of instrumentation.

The next song, “Miami” with BIA, is a surprisingly gritty depiction of Uchis’ Colombian roots. On the song, she sings about her struggles emigrating to the United States and people perceiving her as a prostitute due to her appearance and heritage. The chorus is listenable, but the track’s best moment is BIA’s feature when she really adds the edge to the dark lyrics.

“Just a Stranger” with Steve Lacy is alright. Lacy adds variety by bringing a punchier vocal take, but the chorus only feels memorable because it is so repetitive. The main groove is undoubtedly catchy, however.

Probably my favorite song for Uchis vocally is “Flight 22.” Not only do the vocals feel less breathy, but she just sounds much more confident overall. Not to mention her falsetto sounds incredible.

At first, I was not sure how I felt about “Tyrant” with Jorja Smith until I continued listening. Eventually I came to appreciate the frequently changing rhythm of the chorus as well as the vocal layering. My main complaint is how disturbingly similar Jorja Smith sounds like Rihanna.

Departing from her usual formula comes “Nuestro Planeta,” a piece of Latin pop flare with Reykon. Here Uchis brings out her South American influence more than ever. It is just as low key as the rest of the record, although she does seem to commit more to this style.

I love the playful energy she comes through with on “In My Dreams.” The driving beat gives the track an uplifting beauty previously unseen on the rest of the album. Despite the pleasant sound of the instrumental and chorus, the lyrics have an uneasy darkness to them. Even Gorillaz and Blur frontman Damon Albarn makes an appearance on the bridge where he delivers a brief, but profound message.

The moments we are happiest. Are the moments that we don’t exist,” Damon Albarn

“Tomorrow” has some of the best production choices and instrumentals, but Uchis’ passionless delivery does not work as well as it had on previous tracks. Her voice does not feel out of place, but I feel like the song could have had so much more potential had she simply put slightly more effort into her singing.

It is a shame how short “Coming Home” is just because it is one of the stronger songs in the tracklist despite just being an interlude. The first section of the song has her embracing her R&B influences the most. The second part sounds like a Thundercat instrumental looped until it eventually fades out. It is not a bad sound for her, but her vocals’ lack of dynamacy continue to be an issue.

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The main single for the album, “After The Storm” with Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, was an easy choice as the lead single. Tyler performs the undisputed best feature on the album continuing with the same style he had on “Flower Boy.” Not only that, but Uchis’ commitment to the aesthetic of the song creates a beautifully sunny sonic picture.

Unfortunately, “Killer” is an underwhelming closer. The instrumental is not as dense as the remainder of the album. Not to mention given the title one would expect the vibe to be murderous and somewhat aggressive, but in reality the song is one of the most passive in the tracklisting. Also the ending is way too abrupt to be an acceptable.

Should you listen to it? Probably

Given that I was never head-over-heels for Uchis, this album completely shattered my expectations. On almost every track she brings different strengths, despite the overall sound of the record sounding similar. She has painted herself into a corner a little bit, and I question where she can go from here. But for now, she has created a solid debut and proven herself as someone to look out for in the future.

Best songs: “In My Dreams,” “After The Storm,” “Coming Home (Interlude),” “Nuestro Planeta,” “Flight 22” and “Tyrant”

Worst song: “Killer”

Collegian reporter Henry Netherland can be reached at entertainment@.com or on Twitter @NetherlandHenry.