Published Oct 09, 2015First announced in March with an intended May release date, Kelela's Hallucinogen EP's five-month delay may have something to do with her move from Fade To Mind to Warp Records. What we do know is that these six songs were designated for a proper debut album that was truncated to EP length. One gets the sense that there was a push to get the older material out, as some of these songs have been available on Soundcloud for a year now.
Partly due to her pairing with post-dub UK producers on her 2013 Cut 4 Me mixtape, Kelela has been often categorized in the "alt-R&B" camp, something she has pushed back against in interviews. Online music retailers even incorrectly list her as being an electronic artist because…synths? Unlike many of her vocal effects-laden and vibes-dependant contemporaries, Kelela presents a kind of pure R&B with a decidedly 2000-to-current production backdrop. Aaliyah comparisons are not out of line, and past collaborations with Tink further reinforce a continuation of Timbaland's take on modern R&B.
Duets between breathy vocals and negative space characterize the EP, such as on "A Message" and the Gifted & Blessed-produced "The High." The former pines for the one who got away, in stark contrast to "Gomenasai," a seductive domination groove leaving the listener much like the muse: not going anywhere. Produced by Kingdom, Nugget and Kelela herself, "Rewind" is a missed connection tale marrying her falsetto and an electric boogaloo break, making it the standout hit. The title track is collision of phased vocals and analogue synthesis sounding like glass shattering time stretched over two minutes; it's aesthetically interesting, but the least captivating of the bunch.
Hallucinogen further establishes Kelela as a force amongst emergent singers. She has made the transition from buzz-worthy by demonstrating consistency and range, and there's a certainty in her presentation and artistic choices that leave an infinite number of lanes open. Whatever direction her debut album takes, it assuredly will not be boring. (Cherry Coffee Music/Warp)