Following on from the release of her critically acclaimed breakthrough PBR&B mixtape, 'Cut 4 Me', in 2013, Kelela returns with 'Hallucinogen'. A fully realised blend of nineties-inspired R&B tinted with electronica, throughout the EP’s six-track duration, an atmosphere of emotional uncertainty is established that masterfully reflects the sombre tone of Kelela’s voice. The result is a soulful and largely unpredictable body of work, reminiscent of R&B powerhouses Aaliyah and Janet Jackson.
On Arca-produced opening track, ‘A Message’, Kelela croons “I won’t shed a tear, cause waterworks are easy” over almost skeletal beats and hazy backing vocals, as she calls out an emotionally abusive ex-partner. The production feels hollow and distant, and the track is all the better off for it, allowing the singer’s voice to fill the space with an emotional force. Her voice has improved substantially since her debut mixtape, and she knows it. The second track, ‘Gomenasai’, is one of her most confident and assured releases to date, with the lyrics describing a woman fully in control over her sexual encounter, “soak it up about to leave you dry/you’re my bitch tonight.” The antithesis between the two personas established in the opening tracks allows an insight into the emotional extremes of the artist, making the rest of the EP even more endearing and relatable as a result.
The second song released in anticipation for the EP, ‘Rewind’, notably produced by Kelela herself, is an interesting blend of electropop and hard beats, over which the singer discusses losing herself in a moment of lust, “cause I'm heating up, are you reading my mind/I know that I'm stalling, don't leave me behind.” The highlight of the EP, ‘All The Way Down’, follows on from this. The track, a somber synth affair produced by DJ Dahi (I Don’t Fuck With You - Big Sean, Money Trees – Kendrick Lamar) finds Kelela at her most insecure and honest, “is my head in the way/cus my heart can’t explain/ where we going now?" The change in pitch over the course of the bridge, during which the vocals become deeper, as she embodies the mind of her lover, breaks away from the generally ‘high’ sound of the record, ending the trance the previous three tracks have alluded you in. It is a powerful moment, during which you realise how masterfully the EP has been crafted.
Title track, ‘Hallucinogen’, thrives with free-form harmonizing and garbled vocals. Whilst it is less emotionally driven and not as powerful as the other songs on the EP, it is an interesting detour that emphasises the considerable thought put into the production of the record. The closing track, 'The High', which was recently revealed to be the first song she ever recorded, ends the EP with buzzing bass and lustful lyrics. It’s the perfect closing to an EP that has achieved something very rare: the ability to be universally accessible but astonishingly intimate. If 'Hallucinogen' is an indication of what is to come from Kelela in the future, we should be very excited.