Review: Isolation by Kali Uchis

Isolation makes a fitting title for Uchis’s long-awaited debut, where she manages to create an entire existence and narrative all by herself.
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Who is surprised Kali Uchis enjoys her alone time? Long before her debut, Isolation, ever had a name, Uchis released “Loner”, one of the most popular cuts from her Por Vida EP. Aesthetically and musically, much of Por Vida lies in Uchis’s rear view, but her lone wolf attitude on “Loner” feels like a precursor to the blossoming of her career. In her seclusion, Uchis allows herself to grieve and collect herself, only to come back from her solitude drawing both surprise and suspense.

Unlike the soft, almost ingénue qualities of Por Vida, Isolation fortifies itself against unwanted faces and/or forces. Uchis grew up, and in doing so, grew harder.

“Look at me funny when I write a check” she quips on “Miami”, amusingly aware her feminine appearance belies her hustle. Kinda mobster, kinda motown, Uchis plays both the warrior and the wounded on Isolation: she (occasionally) wants company in her private tower, not to be rescued from it. “Don’t come for me unless I send for you” she sings on “Dead To Me”, to what I assume is the chilled corpse of the unfortunate soul who brushed up against her cold shoulder. This is the soundtrack to a successful getaway, the kind of tunes you expect to show up in the upcoming Oceans 8 reboot.

Uchis’s voice possesses a bit of that wooden Winehouse timbre, but it comes out the same way Uchis does everything else, leisurely. Its slight lilt sometimes puts her out of tune, yet the imperfections play very much into Isolation’s outsider status. After her hard climb to the top, Uchis just wants to enjoy the world from the safety of the tower she built herself.

Her view is expansive, one that includes realms of psychedelia, hip-hop, and reggaeton to name a few. “Your Teeth In My Neck” snaps off for the working-class, enlightened elevator music that carries you to your soul-sucking job, while “In My Dreams” barrels down the coastline fueled by synth-funk. From her time both collaborating and studying under him, Boosty Collins’s influence looms over tracks like “After the Storm” and “Flight 22”. His sense of groove serves as the backbone of many tracks, which expand even further with flourishes of electronic elements and lo-fi vocal riffs. Isolation is as much influenced by Collins as it is by Tame Impala’s atmosphere or Beck’s sensibilities, with Uchis steering everything from the center. The taste on display here explains why everyone from Goldlink to Damon Albarn sees something in her.

Despite her rougher edges, Uchis hardly considers herself invulnerable: if anything, her hardened attitude acts as a defense mechanism against outside elements. Instead of falling head-first into any romance, Uchis pelts her suitors with questions and comments: “What would you do with all that control” she ponders on “Tyrant”, questioning the motives behind her partner's actions with her. On “Nuestro Planeta”, she admits “Teniéndote cerca/Se me daña la cabeza”, that someone’s managed to mess with her head. The rawness of her relationships bleeds into her lyrics, most literally on the closer, “Killer”, where she plainly and explicitly lays out her pain to the perpetrator themselves.

But when “Everything is just won-der-ful in my dreams,” as she says, what’s the point of ever coming out of them? Dreams in-and-of themselves are a form of isolation; they remove you from both your friends and the physical world, unless you make the difficult process of bringing them to life. Uchis did so, but not without a little struggle. Getting to her current destination involved her proving wrong the “people [who] make their come-ups off of those who make minimum wage.”

She just slayed her debut, can you blame her for fleeing the scene of the crime? B PLUS