I’m still not sure I’ll ever fully understand the distinction between a mixtape and a proper album, but with Kelela Mizanekristos’s latest, I think I just might be starting to get it. On 2013’s ‘Cut 4 Me’, she took the punishing bass music palette of Night Slugs’ instrumentals and painted her magnificent vocals all over it to create the dark dance highlight. Four years later, however, we have Kelela’s first album proper.
And it’s true: as brilliant as the aforementioned record was, it is clear that ‘Take Me Apart’ is intended as a truer statement; a more focused declaration of intent. No longer is Mizanekristos squeezing her voice into the gaps in tracks created by Kingdom and Bok Bok, et al. No, while the production here might come from the same reliable sources, this time their structures are built around her.
The result is a shape-shifting collection of 14 tracks that voyage through the full range of electronic pop, with several of the songs traversing the full spectrum on their own. The title track, for example, is at least four tracks in one. A journey that starts life as a sultry electronic soul ballad, it moves through a brief dalliance with out-and-out drum’n’bass and climaxes with a vocal pop coda – updating doo-wop for a 2017 audience – before launching into brawny house music workout. If future life forms only unearth one track from 2017 a couple of hundred thousand years down the line, I hope it’s this.
‘Waitin’’, which lifts the refrain straight from her 2013 Kingdom-produced stand-out ‘Bank Head’ in a self-referential nod, is a further reminder of the long road Mizanekristos has travelled in the four years, while ‘Enough’, with its subaquatic synths and off-kilter layers of percussion builds tension with a newfound deftness, taking the maximalist production of the Night Slugs stable but applying more sleight of hand and restraint. But it is perhaps the muted electronic lament on relationship breakdown ‘Jupiter’ that shows off Kelela’s fresh bent for refinement to best effect.
This is an album that plays with pop music in the way the greats do. Michael Jackson, Prince, D’Angelo, Chaka Khan – even Justin Timberlake in recent years – have all propelled pop into a more interesting space by playing with conventional expectations and inverting them, creating seemingly familiar melodies before bending them just slightly out of shape, sprinkling weirdness on what might at first seem like a standard pop record. Kelela has the chance to join that pantheon. She is firmly on her way.