Review: Kelela – Hallucinogen EP

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Alluring

An honest, explicit and driven EP with enticing postmodernism intertwined with her electronic style.

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Hallucinogen,  originally set for release this summer, is the EP follow-up to Kelela’s debut Cut 4 Me. Combining slick RnB inflections with honest subject matter, the EP constructs a flowing narrative, despite its disjointed style.

Opener ‘A Message’ stumbles into clarity following echoes and a distantly pounding drum, as Kelela’s vocals overlay a low undertone. The layers are distinct, with softly undulating synths making up the foundations of the track. ‘Gomenasai’ enters in a more abstract fashion, with gently hopping pan flutes and indecipherable female vocals, offset by deep synth plunges that pull you into the track. It’s a darker track; Kelela’s voice turns lower and husky as she details that she “ain’t playing around” before detailing “I like the view from on top.” The jolty nature is juxtaposed with melodic vocals and constantly flowing electronic work for an enticing composition. Sexually explicit as the subject matter is, it’s far from falling to sleaziness: it’s empowering, and Kelela takes control of the listener and her narrative.

‘Rewind’ hails from subtle techno beginnings, with a delicately reverberating that lightens the EP. It then falls to more of a pop genre than the RnB found elsewhere, for the most relaxed track. Its slow and steady percussive tempo controls ‘Rewind’ and keeps it on track, as the lyrics note that she can’t rewind, before admitting that she’s “about to break the rules.” Her use of music to talk through female sexuality draws a warming comparison to FKA twigs, but her more melodic take removes the disjointed post-modern vibe associated with twigs. Kelela then falls ‘All The Way Down’ in love as the narrative continues, the more romantic side echoed with falling piano melodies and a tinkering tone, played off against more sinister thuds of a drum. Here, the control is gone as the EP makes way for its eponymous track.

‘Hallucinogen’ is disjointed, broken, and multi-layered. It opens with slick drums and overwhelms listeners in its layers of smashing glasses, indecipherable vocals, and distant whispers. At a point, there’s the deeper, muffled vocals of a male and potential crying. Submerged in Kelela’s hallucinatory state, it seems as though we are at the breakdown of the narrative’s short-lived relationship. ‘The High’ is a powerful ending to Hallucinogen, building from dark, rumbling bass to Kelela’s sultry and unhurried vocals. “I would do anything for the high” repeats throughout – so perhaps the EP is one less about relationships, more about narcotics. That isn’t to say that Kelela doesn’t make the two interchangeable, though.

Hallucinogen is honest, explicit, and beautifully polished. It’s driven by a narrative, drawing on disjointed, postmodern styles as well as an alluring RnB sound, creating a captivating five tracks.

Hallucinogen is out now via Warp Records.

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