Why isn’t Kali Uchis a household name in R&B? After all, Isolation doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a major label debut that boasts a whole host of contributors, from Jorja Smith to Tame Impala, Bootsy Collins to (er) Damon Albarn.
The irony of it being called Isolation, of course, is that Kali Uchis actually sounds better when she’s not weighed down with these extra names. That’s no slight on them, mind; it’s more that Uchis comes with such a strong presence and charm that she almost feels underutilised on her own debut.
But there’s at least some stuff to love here. Thundercat is the only person who seems to meld with her best on the intro Body Language, and Uchis does have striking moment where she breaks through the polished veneer (“why would I be Kim, I could be Kanye?” she sings on Miami), while Dead To Me pounds with confidence even if its chorus threatens to derail it.
Unlike most new acts, Kali Uchis has the chops to pull something like this off. So it’s baffling that the album comes laced with so many other names and flavours. The genre-hopping in the middle comes out of nowhere and jars as a moment of lost confidence (Albarn and his In My Dreams for one, Reykon‘s faded Nuestro Planeta for another). And even heavy hitters like Kevin Parker of Tame Impala only serve to distract from Kali Uchis’s natural fire.
It’s a shame, because with fewer features and a tighter run time (not to mention more songs like After The Storm) would have given Kali Uchis a debut to dream of. For now it’s merely over-produced, shorn of personality, and a disappointment from an artist who has already proven she’s capable of so much more; maybe less time with collaborators and more time in actual isolation would have done this some good.