Reviews

Femme fatale Kali Uchis takes us on an orbit of love

4 Mins read

Three years after her Spanish album Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞ (Fearless (of Love and Other Demons) ∞), the Columbian American singer-songwriter returns with an English language album for those who wear their heart on their sleeve.

The red moon, or ‘blood moon’, is a burning spectacle where the full moon moves into the earth’s shadow and is only partially illuminated by the sun. It was feared by mythologists, who believed that it brought evil upon the world.

But with the Red Moon in Venus, the planet of love, the cosmic artist guides us through burning desire, toxicity, heartache, and self-love, taking us on an intense, yet passionate, orbit of love. The first half of the album follows the honeymoon phase of falling in love, but as the cracks begin to show, Uchis takes us on her heartbroken villain arc to a place of healing.

When Kali Uchis released her first hit Know What I Want in 2014, she was certainly sure of herself and knew who she wanted to be: a Latin soul diva, a modern La Lupe.

Growing up, Uchis played the piano and saxophone, leading to her participating in a jazz band, and enjoyed dressing-up in second-hand clothing. Obsessed with all things retro, she was quickly taken with the 1960s cultural landscape of California, so it was only right for her to reinvent the sound and visuals of this decade with a modern, Latin twist.

Drawing from Latin American bossa nova and early American soul, doo-wop, and jazz, Uchis’ sound revives her influences into dreamy pop and R&B rhythms, falling somewhere in between smooth jazz sensation Sade and America’s vintage sweetheart Lana Del Rey, not withholding the playful attitude of Doja Cat.

For Red Moon In Venus, the Grammy Award winner remains true to her style, creating her hallmark sassy, yet sensual, female empowerment hits. In her upbeat single Moonlight, Uchis coasts from English to Spanish, simultaneously making both languages sound equally erotic, pulling us under her sultry spell.

It tells the tale of a woman who is finally ready to hit the town and find a new love; she sasses, “Kiss, kiss, looking dolly, I think I might go out tonight”, the syllables roll off her tongue, like the temptress we know and love. In a similar tone, Uchis takes throwing shade at an ex to a new level in Hasta Cuando.

She snaps out of the indie pop melody that holds the first half of this song and takes advantage of the 90s boom-bap beat, confidently throwing herself into a whispery, rap: “At the end of the day, she’d eat my pussy if I let her/ At the end of the day, she’d trade lives with me if God let her”. It’s like she’s momentarily drawing power from Rico Nasty, the hardcore rapper she features in smash hit ‘¡aquí yo mando!’.

It’s no wonder that ‘the Kali Uchis effect’ is trending on TikTok, with Moonlight as the song of choice. Her fans, otherwise, known as Kuchis (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like), show their aesthetic before and after listening to her music, transforming from plain Jane to luxurious, bad bitch.

@mariel_mathew the Kali effect✨ #kaliuchis #capcut #moonlight #fyp #foryou ♬ Moonlight – Kali Uchis

Uchis clearly aims to have you in a silk robe, singing along, while staring at yourself in the mirror, in awe of your reflection, explaining her choice to bring R&B it girl Summer Walker onto the album. That’s the Kali Uchis effect, and I have to say, it’s real.

But she doesn’t neglect her vulnerable side either, as she embraces the power of devotionals, like her idols; Erykah Badu, Amy Winehouse, and Selena. In the ultimate ballad Love Between…, Uchis uses 60s-inspired jazzy vocables, bubble-pops, and triangle touches, to show her adoration of her lover: “You make me happy, happy, happy/ You make my soul smile”.

The rose-tinted glasses are on and there is no attempt to take them off. It’s like a blend of The Marias’ vintage track Only in My Dreams and Snoh Aalegra’s smash hit I Want You Around. But, retro, yet contemporary, Uchis’ unique sound remains difficult to emulate.

Amongst the La-La-Las that embellish the album, one instrument seems to stand out and it’s the bass guitar. Like Uchis’ previous works, Red Moon In Venus veers towards a funk-driven bass, reminiscent of the psychedelic, synth-pop group Tame Impala.

For her witchy ballad, Moral Conscience, it’s as if we’ve stepped into the supernatural series Stranger Things, as Uchis uses the electricity and buzz of the bass, in a minor key, to compliment her repetitive chanting: “When you’re all alone/ You’re gonna feel it”. And then comes the dramatic, high-pitched whistle note, where she shows us her impressive vocal range, and it’s clear there’s been a lover’s spat.

One of the most surprising songs on the album would be the Afropop dance track, Fantasy, featuring Uchis’ beau Don Toliver. Although not the first collaboration the pair have created, Toliver’s auto-tuned blend of trap and R&B provide contrast against Uchis’ fluid, passionate melodies, bringing her soft coos and ‘Ha-ah-ah’s from alternative pop into the mainstream.

And yet, it still stands out amongst their previous tracks, as it’s the first time that Uchis has experimented in the realm of Afrobeat since she appeared on a remix of Amaarae and Moliy’s percussive pop song SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY.

As though you’re dancing in a nightclub with eyes pressed on your lover, Fantasy has you caught up in a moment of lust and desire, as Uchis declares “Hold my body/ Don’t let go of me”. At the end of the song, she trots off in her high heels; “Come on baby, let’s go home,” Uchis fusses, and just like that, the fantasy is over.

Uchis pours her romantic inner monologue into Red Moon In Venus. She shows us her empathic side, while also enabling listeners to tap into their divine feminine. By exploring the wonderful, yet quaking symphony of love, one thing remains clear: Kali Uchis is a lover, not a fighter.


Featured image of Kali Uchis and Gabriel Garzon-Montano @ Rebel Night Club for the ‘In Your Dreams Tour’, by The Come Up Show via Flickr CC.

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