Kali Uchis – ‘To Feel Alive’ EP review: a modern icon transcends her breakthrough period

The Colombian-American artist delves into the archive for polished versions of her demoes. They're proof of how commanding her vocals have become

The artwork for Kali Uchis’ new EP, ‘To Feel Alive’ is… something. The explicit creation – blurred by Spotify and Apple Music – features what Kali describes as “the isolation era of me eating the por vida era of me’s pussy.” That’s in reference to the Colombian’s stunning 2018 debut album ‘Isolation’ and her breakthrough ‘Por Vida’ EP, which featured co-production from Tyler, The Creator and jazz gang BADBADNOTGOOD

It’s typical Uchis, though. Beyond dreaming of and executing a spectacular vision, she’s one for myth-making too. Her social media presence is minimal while her interviews are coy and carefully mapped-out – she’s acutely aware that every post, song or indeed artwork must have a place in the larger Uchis narrative.

‘To Feel Alive’, then, is a fitting encapsulation of the journey so far. With album two delayed due to the ongoing global pandemic – though still slated for release for 2020 – this four-track EP is largely comprised of demos steadily teased over those previous phases. Opening song ‘Honey Baby (SPOILED)’ is a re-worked, remastered version of a previous demo of the same name. Likewise, ‘I Want War (But I Need Peace)’ was first debuted live in her joint tour with British soul singer Jorja Smith last year, with some minor adjustments.

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Just because we’ve heard them before, it doesn’t make them any less arresting – they’re too good to be hidden away and gathering dust. Dreamy opener ‘Honey Baby (Spoiled)’ is stripped back to to incorporate a calmer melody and twinkling birdsong, while ‘Angel’ – previously titled after Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar – is proof of how commanding her vocals have become over the last half-decade.

Whether they indicate where Kali is going next is up for debate. Recent single ‘Solita’ – her first singing in both English and Spanish – sits nicely next to her work on groovier tracks by Little Dragon (‘Are You Feeling Sad?’) and a recent dancefloor winner with Kaytranada (‘10%’), but this is a more muted affair.

It’s no worse for it, thankfully. She croons of a faltering relationship on the twinkling ‘I Want War (But I Need Peace’) and is similarly reflective on ‘To Feel Alive’, where Uchis admits that “I let them crucify me / I carry my head down, humble”.

‘To Feel Alive’ is a satisfying recap of the journey so far, reminding us of the sheer power of her voice and her outsider mentality. Few, if any, are even close to being on a similar wavelength.

Details

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Release date: April 24
Record label: Virgin EMI/Universal

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