Music by VICE

When Will Kali Uchis Get the Major Recognition She Deserves?

The Colombian-American has at last put out debut album ‘Isolation’, a bewitching embodiment of her sound. She ought to take over the world.

by Daisy Jones
08 April 2018, 11:46pm

'Isolation' album cover, courtesy of PR

Eggs. Milk. Cheese. Bread. LOVER. These are the things that Kali Uchis writes on a grocery list at the beginning of the video for “After the Storm”, her Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins collaboration from earlier this year. It’s the kind of visual that is so beautiful, so aesthetically delicious, that you want to climb inside it and never, ever get out. Every colour looks like it was sucked from a child’s story book, and the result is a surrealist utopia. “Did you ever wonder? Yeah, do you ever wonder?” sings the 24-year-old Colombian-American artist, her eyelids half closed, her perfectly manicured nails resting beneath her chin. And then she’s slowly gliding through a supermarket in lemon yellow rubber heels, a dazed look on her face, the contents of her trolley coming to life in the way you’d imagine them doing when you were a kid with a fever. Oh my god, I remember thinking, when I saw this for the first time, this person is pure genius.

This isn’t the first time Kali Uchis has made an impact. She has been a master of creating her own universes to get lost in since 2012, when she released the weird, sample-heavy mixtape Drunken Babble that she self-produced at 17. At the end of last year, she released “Tyrant” with UK singer Jorja Smith, and the video was the kind of thing that should have been on every end of year list. “Would you be a tyrant, if I gave you power?” she sings, sounding like peaches and cream and wearing a pink suit like something out of Dynasty, while televised flames explode behind her. Before then, it was “Nuestro Planeta”, her insanely catchy collab with Reykon, Latin America's biggest reggaeton singer. However, despite a list of achievements that span six years, she’s hardly a household name yet. Those in the know might be aware that she was nominated for a Latin Grammy last year for her silky feature on Juanes’ “El Ratico”, but she’s not considered in the same bracket as artists like Lana Del Rey or FKA twigs. She’s more often described as “up and coming” – but how long does someone have to rise before something gives?

Today marks the release of Kali Uchis’ long-awaited debut album Isolation and only time will tell whether this will be a turning point – but it should be. At 15 tracks long, the record is exactly how you’d imagine it: dreamy, feverish and crammed with feminine power. Her sound is one of sunshine and lowrider culture, pastel-coloured by day and neon-tainted by night, the sort of thing you’d imagine floating out someone’s windows in Bogotá or LA as they hung up their washing to dry in the mid-morning heat. Listening to these songs, you get the feeling that Kali Uchis occupies a perennial state of “being in love”, her delivery blissful and far-away, her lyrics full of romance. Even when she’s being venomous, as on “Dead To Me”, she sings as though she’s already moved on and is now in love with her own future: “You think you have problems with me, but baby I don’t even think about you...”

She’s enlisted an impressive array of producers and writers for Isolation, too, and her pick-n-mix vision pays off. Gorillaz lend both their writing and production credits to “In My Dreams”, a strange, antsy song in which Damon Albarn sings about happiness. Elsewhere, Thundercat – who was at the creative epicentre of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly – helps shape album intro “Body Language” into a hypnotic cacophony of jazz flute shuffles that make Kali’s voice sound almost euphoric. Frequent collaborators BADBADNOTGOOD also show up for the aforementioned “After the Storm”, arguably one of the album’s standout tracks. And even Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker co-writes and produces alongside Kali for my personal favourite, “Tomorrow”, bleeding his distinctive psychedelic flavour into her already colourful palette.

Like some of the best artists before her, Kali Uchis isn’t just a singer-songwriter. She excels in creating her own multiverse – a 360-degree world where she writes her own songs, directs most of her own shiny, highly stylised videos that could be cuts from the same movie and carefully weaves together a list of collaborators that elevate her distinct sound and aesthetic – but never overshadow it. Parallels can be drawn between her and acts like Kevin Abstract or even Charli XCX in that way. Like them, you could watch the first five seconds of a Kali Uchis visual, or hear the opening line of one of her tracks, and immediately know who it belongs to.

So it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why she might be considered a star, but not yet a superstar. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t released any major pop bangers yet, the kind that get puked out by mainstream radio and come to define a single summer. Maybe it’s because her doo-wop, jazz-inflected mix is a bit too retro or leftfield to make her the next Lana. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman in music, and some people still have a hard time believing she’s had full autonomy over all that she’s put out. Either way, she’s well aware of her own talents, even if some are still playing catch up. “I can still reclaim my own femininity, I can still take a hold of my own sexuality, wear what I want to wear, look how I want to look, be who I want to be,” she said in a press release that came alongside the album, “and that doesn’t mean that I can’t also be a creative, an intellectual, someone who calls their own shots in their life”. After a long wait, maybe Isolation will be the final push in getting the major recognition she definitely deserves.

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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.