Rare is the combination of vision and perfect execution. It’s a hard thing to absolutely *nail*. But somehow, on her debut album Isolation, Kali Uchis does exactly that, creating one of the year’s most thrilling releases.
Uchis was raised between Virginia and Colombia and gained rave reviews for her genre-bending sound. That’s immediately apparent with the slinky “Miami”, produced in part by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. The album’s woozy soundscape, narcotic beat, and twangy guitars feel like they’re coming at the end of a long night. “Just A Stranger,” featuring The Internet’s Steve Lacy is a shape-shifting banger - kind of think of it as a N.E.R.D song on Xanax. It’s the avant-garde nature of these songs that set her among the pack. While much of the R&B landscape is (literally) dominated by Drake and soundalikes, Uchis is doing something truly weird. This sort of sound simply hasn’t existed yet. Jorja Smith (no stranger to Drake songs, s as she appeared on two of 2017’s More Life) is utilized on Isolation in a completely different way. She’s front and center on Uchis’s “Tyrant” instead of falling more into the background of Drake’s greater tapestry. The soft, 80’s synth sparkles create an easy duet that has endless replay value.
It’s amazing we’ve gotten to this point without talking about the album’s centerpiece, “After the Storm.” It’s Uchis’s signature song at this point, and amazingly features Bootsy Collins and Tyler the Creator *on the same track*. Bootsy’s deployed here in best Bootsy way - ad libs between Uchis riding an unmistakably late-90’s R&B melody. Tyler drops in, whose presence alone is rewarding. As he’s aged, he’s learned how to make his voice his instrument, the deep bass of his voice adding an extra layer of depth to the track. Additionally, he asks Uchis to be the “Tito to his Randy,” which may be one of the best lines in a guest spot this year.
There’s a lot to unpack on Isolation, but it’s super clear: don’t dare sleep on this album. Kali Uchis is at the front of the pack of great young minds in music. She’s part of a generation that’s dismissing genre - flipping tropes of pop, r&b, reggae and indie rock to create something on paper that sounds like a miasma of bad ideas. No way. It’s completely the opposite. It’s really the tip of the iceberg. With this sort of vision and this kaleidoscope of collaborators, there’s no way to predict where she’ll go. That’s so exciting.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media