Taking Apart Kelela’s ‘Take Me Apart’: A Song-by-Song Breakdown

Kelela
Take Me Apart

Warp Records · October 6, 2017

4 Stars


Take Me Apart is an immersive experience of lovelorn tracks flowing together and breathing the same air, demonstrating a mastery of the album format. There are so many recurring melodic and textural themes that pop up from track to track that it’s often difficult to distinguish a call back from a call forward. While no individual song stands out thanks to consistent production from the likes of Arca and Jam City, each track is its own world in Kelela’s universe, with a depth that rewards repeat listens. Audiences are finally tuning into what has been branded as “futuristic R&B” and this album is a crucial text with its complexity setting a new standard for the genre.

‘Frontline’

The TV show Insecure’s use of this song to soundtrack the climax of its most recent season might feel like a strange choice given its less intense build but, just like Kelela herself, this song makes you wait before showing all of its cards.

‘Waitin’

Bringing to mind the aerosolized house of Vince Staples’ Big Fish, this track takes a subdued approach that breezes through the speakers like a summer daydream. Subtleties like distant bird chirps give the song a far-away feel, as if recorded deep in the forest with drums rustling like freshly fallen leaves. The remote sound is undercut by Kelela’s longing for intimacy, her vocals reverberating like the trapped thoughts in an isolated mind.

‘Take Me Apart’

Transitioning from sparse to multilayered drum beats for the chorus of this song lets the vocally driven verses take a much needed spotlight. The accents in the bridge are reminiscent of vocal doo wop improvs and ground the track in a more R&B place. Kelela utilizes layered vocal harmonies as transitions throughout this album and does so excellently in this track as an outro.

‘Enough’

It’s risky to make your chorus so processed and layered that you lose your sense of place in the song; time and song structure blend together and add to the confusion that is echoed in the sentiment of the song. Everything only becomes clear again at the pained accusation of “telling her the same damn thing at the same damn time,” then once more at the question turned pleading, “will your love ruin my heart?”

‘Jupiter’

The second shortest track, complete with shimmery chime effects, might seem like a throwaway in such a complex and dense album if it wasn’t sandwiched between ‘Enough’ and ‘Better.’ The album clearly needs a reset before the decisive yet reflective ballad to come.

‘Better’

The gorgeous, lush ‘Better’ ends at the beginning of its bridge; the up-tempo switch and reversal that follows is so abrupt and uncharacteristic of the album that I refuse to accept it.

‘LMK’

The poor example execution of an uptempo switch in ‘Better’ is immediately followed by a stunning one – ‘LMK’ builds and doesn’t backtrack. It may not be that deep, but it’s so damn fun.

‘Truth Or Dare’

Almost every album has its lull, and this is where Take Me Apart’s sets in. The subject matter of this song has me sold, but the songwriting just isn’t on the same level as the rest of the album.

‘S.O.S.’

The influence of Björk’s sensual introversion is felt strongly as Kelela sings of her thirst over drowsy synth leads and frosty percussion. This was an inessential cut for me, featuring the same bleary-eyed R&B utilized in more interesting ways elsewhere on the album.

‘Blue Light’

While the previous two sleepers are slightly painful, Kelela digs herself out of that hole with ‘Blue Light,’ a sexy, sophisticated sister track to ‘LMK.’ She is able to do so much within the 3:37 runtime of this song; she starts off with long stretches of vocals then moves into pulsating background vocals, only to replace that with a drum track then adding on additional drums and vocal lines – all within the first minute of the song. This type of complex composition and arrangement sells me on this album. It is deft and effective without feeling blunt.

‘Onanon’

‘Onanon’ is Kelela’s most indulgent experimentation with rhythm on Take Me Apart, but it works. The song itself is an argument for the click track; its internalized beat is exacted, and vocal runs are never cut short. What could easily be transformed into a techno track lets itself dwell on the outskirts of R&B by never approximating or showing its full depth of production.

‘Turn To Dust’

Kelela turns to the ghostly sound of Grimes’ Visions, her voice rippling over brooding strings. Cold and overcast, the song is a great foil to the sunny warmth of ‘Altadena’.

‘Bluff’

The song describes a toxic romance where the desire to prove your partner wrong overtakes any feelings of love or affection. The sparse production beeps intermittently like the life support keeping her relationship alive.

‘Altadena’

The closer is one of the most pleasant songs on the album. Slinky ’80s guitars float through partly-cloudy atmospherics, ending with faded keys that softly underpin Kelela’s layered vocals. It provides more comfort than the chillier songs that came before, leaving the listener to bask in the afterglow.

Listen to Take Me Apart here:

About Kara Kokinos 26 Articles
Kara Kokinos (@sunburnt_ghost) is a graduating senior with a major in Music Industry and Communications. She has served on WRBB's EBoard and has had her show 'femmefreak' on air for two years. In addition to writing for WRBB, she also contributes to Allston Pudding and does freelance video/photo work. Her hobbies include brujería and screaming into the abyss about gender theory.

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