Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP is an aptly named journey through a new blend of R&B and electronic sounds that is certainly a step forward for the singer/producer/songwriter. Kelela is based out of LA, although she was born in DC, and has been on my personal radar ever since her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me that was released to wide critical acclaim. With Hallucinogen, Kelela builds on the familiar formula for her songs – emotional, almost intimate, lyrics and her dynamic vocals over experimental and vaguely spooky synths.
The introductory song “A Message” is probably the best introduction one could find for Kelela’s sound, it has all of her hallmarks and is also a fantastically accessible sound – something the tail end of Hallucinogen does not really have. It’s quiet but looms large over the rest of the album, the different melodies intersecting and resonating behind a powerful message. “A Message” is about unrequited love, but it’s fundamentally not a sad lack of love. Kelela is above that as she sings “I won’t shed a tear / Cause waterworks are easy” and the entire song is filled with a certain empowerment. Kelela brings that to the table in most all of her songs; she sends a message through her attitude and lyrics that she’s not to be messed with. This is not a song filled with bravado, rather a quiet confidence that she is better that the mysterious ex-girlfriend that she is being subconsciously compared to.
The album continues with songs about love and songs about loss and, of course, songs that are not quite as straightforward. “Rewind” is Kelela’s ode to a lover who makes her her “best” and it feels almost like a successor to “A Message.” “All The Way Down” and “Gomenasai” are in similar veins, and then the EP takes a turn. “Hallucinogen” is a departure from the rest of the EP as it is largely an indulgent and instrumental feel, Kelela’s production taken to the nth degree. The edginess of the production is reminiscent of SBTRKT’s latest album, along with the lengthiness and general feel. The final song on the EP is “The High” which is more instrumental-focused but has melancholy lyrics and incredible vocals; it is a perfect final act for the trip of an EP that is Hallucinogen.
Overall, this album is exciting and worth listening to – if only just to see if Kelela’s style is for you. I can see her as a polarizing figure, but her wide array of talents is certainly hard to ignore for anyone.