When Kali Uchis appeared on my radar last year, she glowed. I had heard her name before. However, I got my first glimpse of Kali from a Genius lyric video. Lead single “Tyrant” peaked my interest. It features British heartthrob Jorja Smith. A Colombian-American, Kali carries her Latin heritage with pride. She exudes a stoic expression most times. This stone-cold approach fascinates me. Her music bursts with life. So, naturally, these ideas contrast. This debut thrives nonetheless. Uchis laughs at the word “genre”. What even is it? Across 15 tracks Kali shatters expectations. She answers my previous question simply. It seems as though she refutes genre entirely. Pop, funk, R&B, disco, Latin dance. They’re all here. And they all fit snugly next to each other. Kali Uchis deserved greater hype leading up to this debut. With more than enough good vibes to go around, Isolation serves up smiles.
Despite a concise runtime, this album packs a punch. The curtains peel back. “Body Language” kicks on. Funktastic bassist Thundercat lends his talents here early, creating a dream state atmosphere. An organic production palette flows throughout Isolation. Woodwind, strings, and drums function effortlessly beside Kali’s sturdy vocals. Due to this, the album does suffer from minor overlaps. Occasionally, some songs sound alike at the beginning. Nevertheless, a few more seconds in, each track’s individuality blossoms. A handful of writers and producers make appearances here. Most notably are Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, the Gorillaz, and BadBadNotGood. Uchis even looked to BROCKHAMPTON. Group producer Romil supplies the beat for “Just a Stranger”. What a catchy groove. While I do see Steve Lacy as overrated, his part goes over well here. I can’t get this song out of my head. It’s not my favorite however.
That title goes to “Your Teeth in My Neck”. The percussion on this one is super funky. It makes me want to get up and dance. And, just so you know, I don’t dance. Bravo, Ms. Uchis. “Your Teeth in My Neck” reminds me of the old JT and Pharrell collaborations. Funky, smooth, and dripping with swagger. Rather than play it safe, this debut makes a splash with its variable styles. That’s what a strong team does for an artist. Whereas many rappers attempt to write solo, Kali understands how to approach album making. Collaboration is key. Sacrificing ego for quality is a trait few mainstream acts possess. Rappers shouldn’t share verses. But there’s nothing wrong with someone else writing your hooks every so often. Like Pharrell once said, “If you got two hoes, you need to let one go / Two Lambos, you need to let one go”.
Ego, trends, and streams dominate today’s music. However, from time to time, true artists sneak through all the monotony. Kali Uchis is one of those artists. Her intent is clear. Her sound has personality. She floats between dream pop and neo-soul almost like a Prince protégé. If I could change anything about Isolation it would be its track sequencing. With three compelling interludes, a loose narrative presents itself. By the end of the album, the storyline feels jumbled nonetheless. Personally, I’m not a fan of interlude sandwiches. Although “Gotta Get Up (Interlude)” is a standout, more space should reside between it and “Coming Home (Interlude)”. While this does not hinder the album’s success, it takes away from the overall impact of its second half. Over extended listens, Isolation indeed merits increasing appreciation. Yet I can’t help but think this blissful debut missed a poetic opportunity, regarding its concept.