Unusually for an artist that’s one EP and several singles deep into their career, it’s still difficult to know what to expect from cellist/singer Kelsey Lu. That’s in part due to the range and prestige of the North Carolinian’s side projects, which have included arranging strings for Florence + The Machine, collaborating with Solange and Blood Orange, and participating in experimental live performances alongside Oneohtrix Point Never and Lafawndah.
Then there’s the eclectic influences that make up Lu’s musical DNA, meaning she’s as likely to reference Prokofiev or Rachmaninoff in her compositions as she is the work of Paul Simon, Thelonious Monk or Led Zeppelin. Most significantly, there’s the scope of her solo output so far, which has extended from the eerie, loop pedal-led intimacy of 2016’s EP Church to the expansive dream-pop of recent single ‘Due West’, which was produced by Skrillex, of all people. So while you might hope that Blood will finally help you decipher precisely who Lu is, it’s not especially surprising to learn that answers aren’t supplied all that readily and that, actually, Lu is the type of artist that deliberately defies neat definitions.
That’s not to say the spirit of Church is absent from Blood. The pizzicato cello runs and shivering violins make ‘Rebel’ as haunting as anything on Lu’s first EP, while the minimal combination of chirruping birds, plucked arpeggios and heavenly vocal harmonies lend the interlude ‘KINDRED I’ a devotional quality consistent with Lu’s strict religious upbringing. But now that she is no longer constrained by a minimal set-up, or limited to live takes, her musical universe is significantly more vast.
Take ‘Why Knock For You’, the first of two Jamie xx productions. From its minimal beginnings, the song builds to a crescendo of syncopated keyboard, backwards tape loops and strings that swell in waves. Throughout, Lu showcases the versatility of her voice, which can soar with the delicate soulfulness of Solange, and is at other times characterful, with careful enunciation reminiscent of Joanna Newsom. Also fascinating is ‘Poor Fake’, a foray into symphonic disco that sounds like absolutely nothing else on the album, and a cover of 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ that’s surprisingly faithful to the original.
In interviews Lu has spoken of the message of hope in the face of adversity that she aimed to convey via this record. It’s this forward-forging spirit that knits her diverse debut collection together. And yet you get the sense she’s still only scratched the surface, stylistically.