Reviews

Take Me Apart: On Kelela’s Fearless Vulnerability

Following her 2013 debut mixtape, Cut 4 Me, and her 2015 EP, Hallucinogen, Kelela’s long-awaited LP greets us just in time for a new season. The Ethiopian-American songstress maintains her signature knack for tugging at our heartstrings and inducing introspection as she seamlessly blends themes of empowerment and self-governance with vulnerability and raw emotion. Take Me Apart does indeed feel like an unraveling of the self, laid out in pieces for all to witness, while simultaneously emanating an aura of wholeness. In brazen declarations of love, lust, and heartbreak, Kelela once again (and with more intensity than ever before) shows us that it’s not impossible for even the most fragile honesty to coexist with a sense of personal power and pride. Never lacking in self-respect, Kelela’s directness (within the softest contexts of her lyrics) leaves us listeners feeling exposed, yet revitalized.

“Frontline” follows “LMK” as the second single off Take Me Apart, adding to the album’s arsenal of hard-hitting, danceable jams that don’t skimp on emboldened statements about pursuits and endings. Both tracks feature production courtesy of Jam City, a faithful favorite first featured on Cut 4 Me. Throughout the album we hear the presence of other old friends like Arca, along with the talents of Romy Madley Croft of The xx.

In turning attention to slower-paced tracks, “Better” brings forth a brutal honesty encased in solemn tenderness, addressing an elephant in the room between her and an ex-lover with bittersweet revelations. Kelela confesses, “though I’m in love with it, I will amputate/ I care enough not to keep you around.”
With murky production beneath layered vocals so sultry and haunting they’re almost surreal, Take Me Apart conjures warmth and purity with a gritty, futuristic edge that keeps us on our toes. It’s safe to say that Kelela’s words resonate with us in her way of stating what we’re thinking, conveying with clarity what we may hesitate in sharing with one another in intimate interactions and personal relationships. This is exemplified in “Enough,” when the singer’s high-pitched vocals climax with the harsh realization that a significant other is “probably tellin’ her the same damn thing/at the same damn time.” Lyrical daggers such as the aforementioned are present throughout the album, serving as an all-too-familiar, yet nevertheless unsettling reminder that the majority of people—and particularly, women—experience these relationship scenarios with frequency.

Although her the language of her art is universal, it must be noted that in Kelela’s recent cover story with The Fader, she drops some significant truths, not mincing words in stating, “White people don’t understand. Black people don’t have the space to suck.” For people of color (especially women), the stakes are higher. In a world where white mediocrity prevails, Kelela’s straightforward nature and emotional risk-taking are a rare breath of fresh air. With her music being so accessible, and with lyrics so relatable, we cannot forget the relevance of Kelela’s perspective as a black woman. Facing sexism and racism within a male-dominated domain, her visibility in the industry is beyond powerful. Her presence is commanding, and she refuses to settle for less. Kelela’s innovation and versatility prove that she cannot be boxed in or categorized.

Kelela is a master communicator, using her proclamations to let past, present, and potential love interests know that she recognizes what she deserves, and that communicating one’s needs should be second nature. The 34-year-old crooner comes across as ethereal, almost enigmatic, while remaining matter-of-fact. Take Me Apart has the power to provoke self-reflection, but any personal pain that surfaces by focusing on Kelela’s poignant lyrics can be offset by dreamy soundscapes, velvety vocals, and the urge to groove (and bounce). Drawing upon a common sentiment echoed throughout cyberspace, I agree with Twitter user @KortneyEasterly’s words:

“Listen. ’s debut album is the perfect blend of honesty, sensuality, vulnerability and empowerment. I don’t want to be put back together again.

Kelela’s ability to transport us to a place of comfort while toeing the line and pushing boundaries is a testament to her strength and bravery as a growing artist. Her uncompromising authenticity continues to shine through, becoming more momentous with time. Take Me Apart fuses new with classic, leaving room for imagination and anticipation for what we can expect from her in years to come.

To experience Kelela’s greatness IRL, check out her tour dates below:

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