About a month ago, Tyler, the Creator retweeted a bunch of love for Kali Uchis’ (pronounced kah-lee ooh-chee) Por Vida EP, which seemed a little weird due to his previous “no new friends” policy. After reading Tyler’s Fader story, though, it became clear that Odd Future aren’t the collective I was remembering them to be, at least anymore. Earl and Tyler haven’t worked together since “Sasquatch.” Frank Ocean has left OFWGKTA altogether. So maybe, they’re expanding. Tyler and the rest of the producers always mentioned how much they loved Amy Winehouse, right? Maybe Kali’s their fix.
Her website definitely feels OF influenced: Every detail is accounted for and it’s trimmed to its leanest. Pastel colors pop its bold-faced fonts. There are suggestive graphics scattered throughout its pages. And if you provide an e-mail address you get a download of her EP, which is similar to how the Loiter Squad boss built up their base on Tumblr. Then there’s her video for “Know What I Want,” which features an escalating plotline not unlike Syd’s character in the visuals for The Internet’s “Cocaine.”
Drunken Babble preceded all of this. It was a sample-heavy album that Kali produced and rapped on (posted below). There’s no rapping on Por Vida, but there’s plenty of era-bending pop. One minute it sounds like George McFly trying to ask out Lorraine, the next it feels like Lorraine chasing Marty. Then, while keeping it’s tone intact, Por Vida leaps decades and lands in a lowrider cruising through L.A.
It works well enough, but it’s a tad soppy and sometimes delivered in familiar ways—in “Melting” she draws out the word “smile,” singing “Smy-E-I-E-I-E-I–” in reference to being smitten. Other themes include: waiting for a boy to make a move; asking him to take another chance on you; getting sick of your relationship/wondering why somebody seems to have gotten sick of your relationship; and avoiding love altogether, knowing that most relationships break. What ends up saving the EP from romantic retread is Kali’s voice, which has a sedative candle-lit power.
When Kali improvises she shines on tracks like “Loner” and “Rush.” Other standouts include “Ridin Round” and the intro “Sycamore Tree,” thanks to her vocal layering and the art of the call-out. But is she the next Amy Winehouse? Not exactly. Not yet, at least. Right now she’s closer to an Aluna Francis (of AlunaGeorge) than an Adele. The tracks come across perfectly manicured, distant from the emotions they sprang from.
I keep referencing popular British soul singers because Kali’s Colombian heritage sounds masked on the project. It’s there on Drunken Babble but Por Vida trades in its charms for a nicely marketed package (that’s pretty set on its candy-shop Americana vibe). Which is fine for now, given the producers backing her.
Por Vida Production Credits
1. Sycamore Tree (Intro)
2. Call Me [prod. Tyler, the Creator]
3. Melting [prod. Alex Epton]
4. Lottery [prod. Alex Epton]
5. Know What I Want [prod. Bunx]
6. Rush [prod. Kaytranada & BADBADNOTGOOD]
7. Ridin Round [prod. Bunx]
8. Speed [prod. Tyler, the Creator]
9. Loner [prod. Caleb Stone]
Monday night, Kali Uchis played live at the Echoplex in Los Angeles for a sea of teens and twenty-somethings who were happy to wait around the block to see her. Having just entered her twenties herself, it’s hard to really know how Kali will progress as an artist.
It’s instantly obvious that she’s got the voice, but she also has the ability to surprise, best demonstrated on “Sycamore Tree” by how she turns the phrase: “Yeah I don’t know how you do what you do, But damn.” After analyzing the project to bits, I keep coming back to this line and laugh. Even with all of Por Vida’s clichés it comes down to the simple fact that, Kali’s got “it.”
Brad Beatson is the Art Director and Managing Editor at Passion of the Weiss. He’s on Instagram.