Kali Uchis’ ‘Isolation’ breaks barriers

From the outside, Kali Uchis (born Karly-Marina Loaiza) resembles an electric fence at the edge of an abandoned building: fraught with power yet never unleashing full potential. Though she doesn’t extend her full vocal ability in her new collection, her musical prowess doesn’t simply dwindle away. Instead, it’s channeled toward creating an album that glistens with novel brilliance.

Uchis’ debut album, “Isolation” released April 6, is a 15-track compilation that is best described as music from the futuristic past. The songs combine old-school R&B with new wave sounds that offer both vulnerability and strength.

Though it may be easier to please with a one-track-minded album, Uchis’ aim with “Isolation” is not to please – it’s to prove. Uchis makes music for herself, but she doesn’t give herself away too fast or too soon by spacing out her easy-going and heavier tracks. The result is a mesmerizing soundtrack brewing with suspense.

The album curbs all expectations with the help of Latin reggaeton king Reykon, bassist Thundercat, British R&B singer Jorja Smith and rapper Tyler, the Creator, among others.

In an eerie, supernatural-like trickle, the album’s first track, “Body Language,” begins with the sounds of crashing waves and flocks of seagulls. Then comes an enticing bossa nova medley styled with fluttering flutes and a simple bassline. “Just come closer, closer, closer,” Uchis beckons, drawing listeners into the song as a siren would call to a passing sailor.

Uchis often draws from her Colombian roots, throwing Spanish slang into the retro, politically
profound “Miami,” which features BIA, with “Las cabroncitas / Bienvenidos a Miami.” The sultry “Nuestro Planeta,” featuring Reykon, is a full-length dedication to her Latin background, resembling a cleaner, chilled-out “Despacito.” In an interview with Pitchfork, Uchis emphasized how she could have easily released a mindlessly catchy pop song, but that’s not who she is. None of Uchis’ songs fall in the category of “songs to get people sloppy drunk to,” as her tracks are much too valuable to waste on a single night of regret.

“Your Teeth In My Neck” criticizes capitalism and describes Uchis’ experience growing up in a family of immigrants. She reflects on moments of both pain and pleasure in a poisonous relationship found in “Tyrant,” featuring Jorja Smith, and the pick-me-up words of encouragement when things go sour in “After The Storm,” featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins.

Though hypnotic, Uchis’ album does not bore the listener, despite the frequent addition of easy-going lounge music and looping notes. Instead, the album reflects a casual hang, during which friends sit on worn couches and bob their heads to Uchis’ mesmerizing resound.

A masterful sound engineer, Uchis has a natural talent for producing songs, not just singing them. Layered samples, loops and synths are the cornerstone to many of her tracks, giving her an original sound.

Each track offers something new. From “In My Dreams,” with strains that sound like an 80s movie, to the interlude “Coming Home,” which switches to a new beat halfway through, Uchis’ self-created dimension bends rules by not committing to a single music genre.

The closing track, “Killer,” is a dramatic exit. In it, Uchis labels someone who mistreats her as a “killer,” pondering, “Baby, have you got no soul? / Is your heart a gaping hole?” The finale is produced by Wayne Gordon, who worked alongside Amy Winehouse, capturing the best of jazzy blues.

Uchis has come a long way since her mixtape days, and she shows that she can create something that is not solely manufactured from a pre-made sample. She proves that music is a powerful form of art that, if done right, can peer into a person’s soul.