The worst part about Tyler, the Creator is that he can’t sing. Luckily for us, Kali Uchis can sing. Unfortunately for us, her music is vibey to a fault. In other words, Kali Uchis faces obstacles not only from being a new artist, but also from choosing to make music in a lane that is still very much in development. This is both great and trite. When “Isolation” is at its highest, I struggle to think of someone who can do Uchis’s style better. When “Isolation” is at its lowest, I just want to skip the track—or worse, go listen to someone else.
Kali Uchis has been in the music game for some time now, but she had yet to release her own music up until this album. I know this artist best from her work with Tyler, the Creator. She appeared all over his overblown and unfocused “Cherry Bomb”; most notably on its best track, “Fucking Young/Perfect.” Kali Uchis’s vocals are dreamy, withdrawn and smooth as vanilla. This song is excellent, despite its content-related shortcomings, and I’m happy to say it isn’t just a one-hit wonder.
Kali Uchis and Tyler teamed up again on Tyler’s newest LP, “Flower Boy,” on the hit track “See You Again.” Again, Uchis comes through with a killer feature that continuously brings me back to the summer when I started listening to this track.
In between these two Tyler features, Kali Uchis also appeared on Daniel Caesar’s most popular track, “Get You.” I have absolutely no qualms stating that Kali Uchis utterly stole the show on this track. Her vocals were commendable on the two Tyler tracks, but her performance on “Get You” was the one that really drew me to this new project. It was on this track that Kali Uchis demonstrated her ability to not only bring an overwhelming sense of emotive force to her vocals, but also exhibit emotion while holding both the beat and the listener’s attention. In today’s day and age, standing out is the most significant thing you can have going for you as an artist.
However, a lot of this album feels like its fiddling with hot air. If I had to liken it to any of the three singles I had previously brought up, its most comparable to “Fucking Young/Perfect.” Kali Uchis’s debut album lacks the pop sensibilities of “See You Again” (for the most part), and it certainly doesn’t have the emotive weight of her feature on “Get You.”
What this album does have is some very lush instrumentation and some vocals that match this extravagance. Kali Uchis’s performance on this record is soaked in syrup. She is drowsily laconic on “Flight 22,” a track with one of the slowest earworms I’ve ever heard. The track itself is very slow and lofty, and I love it. Like a “Pet Sounds”-esque Beach Boys track, “Flight 22” is simple, catchy, and it sticks with a shtick that it fulfills to completion.
It’s a shame that few other tracks on this album reach the same heights. The following track, “Your Teeth In My Neck,” is at least as catchy as “Flight 22,” and with a bit more bump to its beat. However, it overstays its welcome, going on for just a tad bit too long. With a violent hook like this one, the lyrics lack the substance to hammer this track down in anyone’s memory.
There is the awesome track “Nuestro Planeta,” featuring Reykon, which I do like a lot. Not only is this song buoyant like “Flight 22,” but its collaboration with Reykon is excellent, serving to complement rather than drown out Kali Uchis—something that is not the norm for this album. Rather, there are too many people featured on this album, and when every other song has a feature, it seems like it’s a slight on the producer’s part to have Kali Uchis’s solo on the cover. I get that pop music is a collaboration, but there were some moments where I felt like the features were just there to associate Kali Uchis with more acclaimed stars, and took away from showing listeners how much she can do on her own as an artist.
Case in point of Kali Uchis’s performance being undercut is “Before the Storm,” featuring Tyler, the Creator and Booty Collins. Is there anyone out there that can honestly say that they like Kali Uchis’s vocals over this beat more than Tyler’s low and groovey featured verse? I think not. “Let’s produce a thriller, my chocolate to your vanilla” is a fantastic and memorable line, but it’s not coming from Kali Uchis. What’s worse is that it makes her performance come off as a little lackluster in comparison.
However, sometimes Kali Uchis makes everyone look better even when she’s on her own. “Feel Like a Fool” is incredibly out of place, while “Dead To Me” is just awful. I hated this track. It sounds like an outtake from the Gorillaz’s last album, which was a downright unbearable. Kali Uchis’s vocals come off as uninspired, and the repetitive hook with the faux-techno/disco beat just didn’t do it for me. Thankfully, this track is an outlier.
I’m not trying to drag Kali Uchis, but it’s hard to ignore the faults on this album. Although the other artists featured on the album compensate for some of Uchis’s weak points, I was hoping to see more development from Uchis herself. Still, it isn’t a complete loss. I’m left in the same spot I was in when I came into this album: I’m looking forward to what Kali Uchis does next.