Review: Kali Uchis impresses on debut album ‘Isolation’

Colombian American singer Kali Uchis is perhaps best known for her acclaimed collaboration with Tyler, the Creator on his single “See You Again,” and her Grammy-nominated duet with Daniel Caesar on “Get You.” Her first solo endeavor, however, may skyrocket her to stardom, as Uchis released her impressive debut album Isolation on Friday.

Photo courtesy of Virgin EMI Records | Daily Trojan

Isolation is a 15-track saga that immerses listeners into Uchis’ world. The overall production is incredibly cohesive. Listeners are first brought into the record’s universe with a jazzy introduction, similar to the sound of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

The record is R&B-heavy, groovy and laid back. It is the perfect collection to pop in the car for a long drive on a hot summer day. While maintaining cohesion, the production is experimental at points, most notably on the track “Dead To Me,” in which Uchis details moving on from a past relationship. Its subtle club beat is one of the few upbeat moments on an otherwise mid-tempo collection of slow jams.

The main draw of Isolation is neither the production nor the well-penned lyrics within the album. Rather, Uchis’ voice is the highlight. Her alluring vocal performance is immersive, providing a timeless vibe that is widely accessible. The most old-fashioned tracks “Flight 22” and “Feel Like a Fool” are reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, with the latter featuring a sultry saxophone riff in the background.

Uchis reaches greater heights within the record in her well-executed collaborations with producers and other artists. An early track, “Tyrant,” features Jorja Smith, a British singer notably included on Drake’s More Life playlist. Another highlight is found on the distant cousin to “See You Again,” “After the Storm.” Where “See You Again” found Uchis supporting the track, “After the Storm” shows her leading it.

Other notable collaborators are Tame Impala and Gorillaz. The Tame Impala-produced “Tomorrow” could just as easily have been featured on the band’s recent album, Currents. Its groovy production blends well with Uchis’ sultry voice. The Gorillaz collaboration, “In My Dreams,” is a standout in its production and lyrics, giving context to Uchis’ background and detailing a euphoric dreamscape echoed by the foggy production. The follow-up, “Gotta Get Up – Interlude,” provides a fitting counter balance to the track, again balancing a groggy production with dreamy lyrics.

The album closer “Killer” is the oldest track on the album. Uchis wrote the track at 17, when she was living out of her car. Its understated production and lyrics calmly conclude the album, leaving listeners with a haunting feeling.

While not every track leaves a strong impression, the overall aesthetic and tone of the album is cohesive enough to maintain listeners’ attention. Uchis’ voice draws influence from SZA, Janelle Monae and Amy Winehouse, but it has a tone unique to the bilingual artist. The world of Isolation is one that demands attention.