Fans of forward-thinking, fearlessly feminist alt-R&B have been enjoying a moment as of late. Beyoncé's Lemonade; Her sister Solange's equally impressive A Seat at the Table; SZA's breakthrough Ctrl. And now, yet another such modern classic is being released: Take Me Apart by Kelela, arguably the most nuanced and intricate writer and performer of that ilk.
From a sonic standpoint, this LP pushes the genre's boundaries as much, if not more than its contemporaries. In fact, it often sounds as much like electronica or a niche of dance pop than the sort of soulful, jazz-indebted palette typically found on an R&B record. That's especially true of "Enough," whose synths turn cacophonous throughout much of the song, with nary a chorus in sight. "Jupiter" immediately follows that track, and makes for sharp juxtaposition, considering its understated tone and groaning, melancholy synths.
But that doesn't mean Kelela ignores R&B conventions altogether. "Waitin" wears its Janet Jackson influence proudly, its rhythm patterns succinct and catchy, sounding both of the day and slick with '80s pop sheen. "Truth or Dare" is sexy enough to have made Prince blush, what with its to-the-point come-ons and fantasy fetish talk, not to mention its equally minimalistic, clinking percussion. All that helps it sound like one of the Purple One's latter day, more experimental tracks.
Impressive as all those songs are, the clear standout comes at the start. Opening number "Frontline" is foreboding and stark, and finds Kelela warning the lover who scorned her to stop "testing" her, because "I'm finished," all over a percolating instrumental that thrillingly bursts to life.
Whether it's the kiss-off on "Frontline," or the unabashed come-ons on "Truth or Dare," Take Me Apart is a subtle, sexy LP from a woman who knows what she wants, and clearly aims to write anthems for fans feeling the same way. (Warp)