- In 2013, Los Angeles singer Kelela Mizanekristos debuted as a solo artist with a bigger release than many might see in their entire career. Cut 4 Me was both her foray into releasing original songs and the culmination of two labels that had long used R&B and hip-hop ideas in their futurist dance music. With Kelela at the helm, Night Slugs and Fade To Mind set out to claim their corner of pop. But the sheer number of notable production credits—including Jam City, Kingdom, Bok Bok, Nguzunguzu and Girl Unit—threatened to overshadow the mixtape's namesake. Two years, some key guest spots, a deluxe reissue and a Warp record deal later, Kelela has returned with her follow-up. Hallucinogen still features big names like Arca and Kingdom, but now its central star is bolder, brighter and more mesmerizing than ever.
There's a considerable range across these six tracks, giving Kelela an opportunity to flex her dynamic delivery and wide register. Early singles "A Message" and "Rewind" outlined how much Hallucinogen would offer: the former, produced by Arca, turns lovesick R&B into a druggy crawl, while the latter is a graceful party jam equally indebted to '80s freestyle and weightless synth pop. Nguzunguzu's MA splits the difference on the sub-loaded smack of "Gomenasai," and it sets the stage for a breathless charge of sexual energy. But no matter the framework around her, Kelela commands the spaces—each production takes a supporting role to her expressive falsetto and cool confidence.
At the heart of Hallucinogen is "All The Way Down." It's a tender, mid-tempo ballad produced by DJ Dahi (a collaborator with Drake, Madonna and Tinashe, among others), and the most straightforward song in Kelela's small catalog. The impact of its presence is huge. Still a pop outsider, she doesn't just fit seamlessly into the warm, pillowy R&B, she finds new life there, delivering countless silken harmonies and untouchable hooks. You could imagine a singer like Ciara pairing well with DJ Dahi's soft-focus bounce, but the delicate lilt Kelela masters over each intricate melody sounds unmatched. Suffice it to say it would be a major oversight if "All The Way Down" doesn't reach the radio.
As if to further drive home the scope, Hallucinogen follows its most conventional song with its two strangest. The title track is another Arca appearance, where he's given free rein of a wispy acapella and heavy broken beat, and then things go pitch-black with Gifted & Blessed on "The High." It's hard not to think of The Weeknd when first settling into the brooding tone, though the light that slips in through Kelela's lavish vocal layering is uniquely hers. She elevates the song from the shadows with only wordless coos, as if slowly realizing how a strong voice can change the world around her.
01. A Message
04. All The Way Down
06. The High