Mixtape seemed like an unnecessarily modest designation for Cut 4 Me, one of the most striking and satisfying releases of 2013. Almost four years to the day, after key appearances on songs by the likes of Kindness, Solange, Danny Brown, and Gorillaz, and the release of a strong EP, Kelela followed it up with this second full-length, what she calls her first album. The distinction suddenly made sense. Like Cut 4 Me, Take Me Apart is predominantly electronic and progressive R&B, one moment as dreamlike and fevered as an intense courtship, then as startling and chilling as a breakup. It's more composed, less pieced together, with mixtape and EP collaborators Jam City, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Arca primary among a comparatively supplemental and mostly new crew of associates. This also comes across more as a work of in-person interaction than one of distanced communication. Nothing is as volcanic as "Bank Head" or as rush-inducing as "Rewind" -- two past gems -- but these hyperballads and zero-gravity jams always stimulate, covering a broader spectrum of emotional states with deeper resonance. Take the tender "Better," where, over lightly shuffling drums, bobbing bass, and finger snaps and handclaps, Kelela accosts her lover, threatening to "amputate" rather than cut off -- knowing it'll hurt her more -- yet confessing "I can't bear the way you look at me when I let you down." In "Take Me Apart" itself, Kelela combines literal expressions of anxious anticipation with multiple water metaphors reinforced with drums that ripple and hurtle to evoke an emotional engulfment. Bedroom commands, incantations, and blissed-out expressions are abundant, as are no-strings propositions like the stomping/snaking highlight "LMK." Although they're all the way in the moment, there's always a looming sense -- due to dissension and concealment referenced elsewhere, compounded by faintly eerie production touches and the persistent element of sorrow in Kelela's silvery voice -- that it'll end in tears.
Take Me Apart Review
by Andy Kellman