Many artists have launched their careers on charisma alone. Kali Uchis, whose pastel-filled, neo-chola image reeks of style and personality, might seem like one of those artists at first glance. But pegging her as a Tumblr sensation alone would be a mistake – and her debut EP Por Vida confirms why we chose her as one of our Breakout Artists of 2014.
At just 20 years old, Uchis makes sweet-n-sad love songs redolent of teenage yearning and packages them with the careful curation of someone wise beyond their years (she oversees all aesthetic elements of her work – from her impeccable wardrobe to her cover art to music video direction to merch design). Her personality is just fuel for what is ultimately tremendously well-crafted music, a soulful sound that – though not completely reinventing the game – also couldn’t have been made by anybody else.
Por Vida shows us a more sensitive side of Kali. The talk-rap and chillwave-inflected flavor that characterized her Drunken Babble mixtape are gone, taking a backseat to something more melodic, well-developed and upfront. This album is a slow jam extravaganza, one that’s not quite pop, not quite girl group/Northern soul, and not quite Nineties R&B but everything in between. In Por Vida Uchis creates a sound you’ll swear you’ve heard before but can’t quite put your finger on – at once familiar and fresh.
Here’s a track by track breakdown to guide you through Por Vida’s ebb and flow:
‘Sycamore Tree’ is almost completely a capella, with just a rhythmically hummed melody and some ad-libs as backup. Sets the mood of lovely vibes right away.
Uchis’ sweet vocals are pushed front and center in the mix on this one. Spare and simple, this Tyler, the Creator-production is Por Vida’s prototypical track, demonstrating her 60s sensibilities with nods to the 90s in the production.
Another slow number with lyrics comparing her lover to a religion, justice and other abstract but powerful analogies. The melody of its catchy chorus ascends and descends, cleverly creating a sonic approximation of actually melting.
Sweetness abounds on this retro-tinged, recently-released single. It could become this summer’s love jam and is a stand out on the EP.
Know What I Want
This saccharine dancehall song is closer to Ace Of Base and other 90s artists who looked to Jamaica for pop inspiration. Its rocksteady vibes will seduce you.
Things pick up rhythmically with this one, which is no surprise given that it was produced by Kaytranada & BADBADNOTGOOD. Instantly memorable, especially thanks to the chorus, you’ll have this track stuck in your head for days on end.
A bouncy candy-coated hip-hop beat is frosted with Uchis’ sing-songy voice. But don’t let the dulcet vocals fool you – lyrically, this one shows more attitude (“Fuck me over, I’ll fuck you worse and take off to Japan,” she sings).
The most electronic track on Por Vida, “Speed” features a waltz beat and lush harmonies to get lost in. That said, the beat packs plenty of bounce as well– another Tyler, the Creator production.
A wistful close to the album, with trip-hop references and a delivery somewhere between a Mid-Atlantic accent and a vague patois. This is the anthem for anyone who felt like they didn’t fit in in high school.