Kelela’s ‘Hallucinogen Is Not Hallucinogenic

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Kelela Mizanekristos performing at a concert Photo courtesy of
Kelela Mizanekristos performing at a concert.
Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Originally scheduled for release on May 5, Hallucinogen, the latest EP from Kelela Mizanekristos (who simply goes by the name Kelela) has already been the subject of much acclaim following its postponed release last week. In spite of the highly esteemed remarks that Hallucinogen has drawn, there is nothing really monumental or unique about this particular disc.

The overall sound of the six-track EP gives listeners the impression that Kelela is trying too hard to replicate the very eerie, slow-paced, avant-garde melodies of FKA Twigs. The fact that Kelela released her EP two months after that of Twigs does not seem to help her image either.

While her lyrics are but the least like those of Twigs in terms of obscurity, they do in fact tell a story. Hallucinogen is simply one’s reliving of a bad breakup and Kelela successfully reflects its different stages throughout her EP.

Hallucinogen opens with “Message,” a track that Kelela speaks out to her very distant partner, telling him “I should have known better / So I’m gonna let your body go for sure.” In terms of its pace and vocals, the way this particular track is composed makes it rather similar to FKA Twigs’ “Ultraviolet.”

Following the emotional decrees of Kelela’s “Message” is the begging and pleading that accompany the bargaining stage of a breakup. Such is found in “Gomenasai,” which, in addition to meaning sorry in Japanese, expresses the great lengths one will take to avoid accepting that the relationship is over. What makes “Gomenasai” stand out from other tracks that narrate one’s attempt to win back one’s ex is that it is told from the one who performed the breakup’s perspective rather than the recipient’s. In performing the act of breaking up, Kelela is harsh and even tells her ex, “You’re my bitch tonight / But tomorrow you won’t admit it.”

With its heavy bass line and synths, “Rewind” is not only more fast-paced but also more upbeat than the other tracks on Hallucinogen. Besides sounding like the kind of ‘90s dance song that one would hear at a basement rave, “Rewind” is nostalgic in the sense that it speaks of the time two lovers first met.

In declaring the breakup for good, Hallucinogen closes with “The High,” a track that captures the mélange of temptation and regret that normally come after a one-night stand with one’s ex.

In defining the kind of artist that Kelela is, fans and critics often seem to be at odds as to whether they should classify the Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter as the next Aaliyah or as an FKA Twigs copycat. After having listened to Hallucinogen, it is easy to say that Kelela is talented, but fails to stand out from her genre that is the overtly-saturated alternative R&B. She is not only overshadowed by more talented artists that are associated with the genre, like FKA Twigs, but also by less talented ones like The Weeknd. I would like to believe that Kelela’s latest EP is just a transition to something greater, but only time can tell.

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