Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Kali Uchis breaks barriers of genre in ‘Isolation’

Uchis’ debut album shines

Official Kali Uchis Facebook Page

Official Kali Uchis Facebook Page

By Owen Bailey, Collegian Correspondent

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Kali Uchis uses other-worldly sounds to deliver deeply human messages in her debut studio album, “Isolation.” Uchis effortlessly blends genres to create a psychedelic, breezy landscape over which her vocals seem to float.

The album sounds as though the music was written on a beach with reggae and ska in mind, only to be brought into the city to be layered with the sounds of hip hop, funk and jazz. Behind every song is a strong rhythm, whether it be a quick jazz drum or a funky bass line, assuring that each song feels just as alive as the last.

The project plays with themes of ambition, success, escape and love. Uchis weaves these themes together throughout the album, using each to highlight the others and creating songs with multiple levels of depth.

The album opens with “Body Language (Intro),” where airy flutes and chimes dance over a quick, up-tempo rhythm driven by a strumming guitar. The song beckons the listener, inviting them to listen to and engage with the album. The intro uses language that evokes imagery of physical lust and love to deliver its message, something seen over and over throughout the album.

“Your Teeth In My Neck” does the same. A quick jazz drum over a funky bassline and a bright, staccato synth introduce the song as Uchis playfully sings about a power struggle. The lyrical imagery of the song lends itself to a typical love song, but the power struggle is not a personal relationship. Instead it is between artists and the music industry, the teeth in reference not to a person but to the vampiric industry itself.

Uchis’ blending of genres is possibly her greatest talent. “Flight 22” relies on a Doo Wop-style drum loop reminiscent of The Spaniels, layered with her trademark airy synths to provide her almost alien touch. Her R&B-style lyrics top the song off, leaving a mellow, vibey, yet impactful song that deals with another major theme of her album: escape. She talks about her desire to leave where she is, not knowing where the mysterious “Flight 22” is going, yet still willing to take the trip.

Uchis makes a more direct allusion to this theme in “In My Dreams.” She talks about the majesty of her dreams and ponders why one would wake up when dreams are infinitely better than real life.

The song also stands out sonically; it kicks off with a fast drum and synth mixture with touches of bubblegum pop and her own style, all at the pace of a punk rock song. Uchis abandons her smooth R&B vocals for a sort of chirping, high-energy delivery that leaves the song sounding like something out of the Gorillaz catalogue, with Gorillaz’ frontman Damon Albarn even making a short appearance on the song.

Albarn’s eerie, and only, lyrics reinforce the escapist angle of the song: “The moments we are happiest (happiest, happiest) / Are the moments that we don’t exist (don’t exist, don’t exist).”

Uchis is Colombian-born but spent time growing up and going to school in the U.S., and the influence of both countries is highly apparent in tracks like “Miami.” Traditionally hip-hop hi-hats rattle over a groovy reggaetón beat, fusing the sounds in her effortless nature. Uchis and fellow bilingual artist BIA infuse a Spanish affect and Spanish lyrics into the song, furthering the feel of ska and reggae in the track.

The track explores Uchis’ identity as an immigrant and her time spent searching for work. Her ambition shines through here, as she delivers one of the more memorable lines on the project: “But why would I be Kim? I could be Kanye / In the land of opportunity and palm trees.”

Standout song “Tyrant,” the first single released off the album, highlights the power struggle in a relationship and also makes use of Uchis’ bilingual abilities. The single was released alongside a full Spanish version, “Tirano.”

The album leaves listeners feeling as though they have briefly stepped out of reality. The blending of genres, Uchis’ smooth and otherworldly vocals and the themes of escape and ambition bring the listener along for a ride through Uchis’ carefully crafted sonic landscape. Uchis has long been experimenting with the boundaries of different genres, and her debut studio album makes it clear that she is a master of her craft.

Owen Bailey can be reached at [email protected]

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