It’s increasingly easy to be sceptical about artists who carry a huge deal of hype and miraculously wind up with major-label deals for their debut effort. However, as with the first albums from Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse, Kali Uchis‘ debut does nothing to fuel the fire of her detractors.
Put simply, Isolation is a spectacular record, with glistening pop hooks, yearning torch ballads, oddball indie skronk and a smoky, nostalgic R’N’B vibe. There’s enough variety and sheer pop power here to merit the hype, and more.
Tyrant, featuring Jorja Smith‘s best Rihanna impression, and After The Storm (featuring Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins(!)) set a relatively middling bar for the album, but one which is consistently raised ever higher throughout. Opener Miami, for instance, is built up on a crusty, dusty rock track that you’d realistically believe had been crafted by The Black Keys magician Dan Auerbach, but has actually come from Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio‘s auteur songsmith).
Just A Stranger somehow manages to evoke both the locked-down groove of prime-era Justin Timberlake and the clouded, hazy psychedelic fug of prime-era OutKast. Those are two comparison points you’ll be unlikely to hear about any other major label artist this year; hell, even Timberlake can’t get compared to his best self this year. The only (minor) misstep on the record is the Tame Impala song Tomorrow. Well, it’s not a Tame Impala song, but it may as well have been. Produced by Kevin Parker, it is a fairly lightweight affair, but the sticking point is that it’s clearly not amongst his greatest work and does nothing to further either artist.
Constrastingly, In My Dreams is an absolute gift from Damon Albarn, whose vocals add a bit of star power to the record. It has a retro-synth, video-game beat which ends up driving the track into being the highest BPM cut on the record. And Lana Del Rey’s patented sad-girl aesthetic is given a Caribbean flavour on album closer Killer; there’s enough sexy moping for the track to be thrilling rather than depressing.
A touching, endearing tenderness runs through Isolation, amongst all the boasting and empty bravado. The scepticism that usually accompanies artists like this often leads to the diamonds being ignored and not given the credit they deserve. This album deserves plaudits, and Kali Uchis should use this momentum to push herself onto the global stage. She’s earned it.