When we said Kelela’s Cut 4 Me album deserved a Grammy, we weren’t kidding. Jaw-dropping compositions and vocal versatility made Kelela the best thing to happen to R&B last year, and slowly but surely she’s being recognized as one of the genre’s top artists. She’s begun trickling out new music to her thirsty fans in 2014, like the narcotic “The High” and Bok Bok’s “Melba’s Call,” so now is as good a time as ever to introduce newcomers to her small but powerful catalog of work.
“Guns & Synths”
Bok Bok and Kelela make a powerful duo. Twice they connect on Cut 4 Me, a project so thoroughly stellar that it seems wrong to separate any individual songs from the incredible whole. It starts with “Guns & Synths,” an efficient mission statement that lays the foundation for starry synths to shoot across your earphones while Kelela delivers a short, catchy melody on the chorus.
In 2012, Kelela collaborated with Teengirl Fantasy, a genre-bending duo who met at Oberlin College in Ohio before migrating to New York City. Trying to pin down what kind of music Teengirl Fantasy makes is less important than understanding why it works here, and it’s Kelela’s voice that acts as the song’s anchor. There’s less studio manipulation of her voice here than in later work, so her voice has an earthy, fuller feel, and she sings like she’s staring right at you.
Cut 4 Me should really be played in its entirety, every time. Kelela and the handpicked production team that she worked with, including Kingdom, Morri$, Nguzunguzu and Jam City, crafted an unmistakable song for her debut project, but Girl City also produced one of the most singular selections, “Floor Show.”
Echoing vocal samples fade into obscurity over an industrial groove while Kelela sings about the end of time. Dystopian and somewhat melancholy, “Floor Show” is stunning in its composition, contained tempo and sparse production.
A therapeutic, heartbeat-slowing song that eats away at you as the seconds tick on. Kelela’s voice is like a delicate leaf, but it’s her cadence during the verses, languid and extended, that draws you in to the throbbing Gifted & Blessed beat. This needs a rewind every time.
The centerpiece of Cut 4 Me contains two Kingdom-produced cuts, Bank Head and Cut 4 Me. It wasn’t that Kelela did something new by fusing R&B with elements of electronic music on that project. It’s that every song maintains balance between the music and the vocalist. “Bank Head” is driven by claps and ghostly vocal snippets, and Kelela lets the production take her for a ride. Every drum sound, every melody, all interact with unbelievable equality. She has a keen sense of when to build up and when to release, making “Bank Head” the ultimate ride.
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