“It’s not a break-up, it’s just a breakdown, we’re spinning around,” sings Kelela towards the end of this long-awaited debut album. Concise and candid, it’s typical of ‘Take Me Apart’, a 14-track collection of super-modern electro-R&B which Kelela calls “an honest vision of how we navigate dissolving ties with each other and yet remain sanguine for the next chance at love.” In short: don’t come here for basic love songs.
Washington, D.C.-born singer-songwriter Kelela Mizanekristos has been hot since she dropped her brilliant 2013 mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’, a consistently inventive set in which she kept bending ‘90s dance and R&B sounds in exciting new directions. Solange included Kelela’s track ‘Go All Night’ on her ‘Saint Heron’ compilation LP; Gorillaz tapped her to co-write and sing on ‘Submission’, a track from last year’s ‘Humanz’ album. ‘Take Me Apart’ fully explains what the fuss is about. Aided by co-writers and producers including Björk/Kanye cohort Arca and Zayn collaborator Sam Dew, Kelela has crafted a cool and sensual album which feels cohesive without slipping into saminess.
In fact, her music never really makes a wrong move. ‘Frontline’ has glorious R&B hooks which recall Destiny’s Child, while the skittering electronica of ‘Enough’ and ‘Take Me Apart’ contain welcome echoes of Björk, an artist Kelela has said she grew up listening to. The disarmingly stark ‘Better’, on which Kelela’s vocals are accompanied only by low-key keyboards, sees her tell a soon-to-be-ex: “I care enough not to keep you around.” Whether she’s singing about a complicated romantic entanglement or something more primal, she’s never afraid to lay herself on the line. “I could touch myself babe, but it’s not the same,” Kelela purrs on ’S.O.S.’, a straight-up bootie call.
The only gripes are minor. ‘Take Me Apart’ could be a track or two too long, and the album’s purest pop rush, ‘LMK’, is such a triumph that it’s hard not to wish she’d try something similar again. Then again, nothing about this lush and accomplished album suggests Kelela is an artist who wants to repeat herself.