Kehlani – CRASH

A focused, yet frantic overhaul of the R&B vocalist’s signature sound...

In layman’s terms, a crash is defined as two parties coming into contact with each other violently, without the implication of morality, emotion, or intent. On the album opener and tribute to the titular ‘90s R&B duo – ‘GrooveTheory’ – Kehlani doesn’t patiently set the scene. They conjure up a fiery collision of sound and plant themself into the track’s palpable, misty atmosphere. In the second leg of ‘GrooveTheory’, the track’s flame quickly disperses, and the singer culls together a salvo of sultry and psychedelic mantras pulled directly from the Kehlani playbook.

Arguably, an artist’s fourth album has unwritten rules bound to them. Will they retain the formula that made them successful, or will they reinvent themselves as new? Kehlani chose the latter option. Gone is the wide-eyed, retro-inspired R&B of ‘Cloud 19’, ‘You Should Be Here’ and ‘SweetSexySavage’. Equally, the neo-soul musings of ‘While We Wait’ are in the rear-view mirror, and the quaint, aquatic serenity found on ‘Blue Water Road’ has long since evaporated.

Loosely speaking, ‘Crash’ picks up where ‘It Was Good Until It Wasn’t’ left off, weaving notes of dystopia and emotional turmoil (‘Chapel’, ‘Lose My Wife’) with themes of love, lust, and longing (‘Vegas’, ‘8’) throughout its 13-track run. This time featuring glossier beat-work and grandiose ideas, ‘Crash’ is Kehlani’s shot at an R&B classic, stripping the genre down to its most intimate components and reforging it using avant-garde strokes of genius.

Leading single ‘After Hours’ might be one of Kehlani’s smartest chess moves thus far. The track presents itself as a light-hearted, albeit by-the-numbers retelling of Cordel “Scatta” Burrell’s 2003 sample-magnet ‘Coolie Dance Rhythm’. Surprisingly, ‘After Hours’ exists (almost) alone in the record’s mainstream pop district. Instead, Kehlani’s pump fake extenuates the record’s riskier moments. The Omah Lay-assisted ‘Tears’ is sublime, stitching together elements of Afro-fusion, shimmering synths, and acid house.

Despite its labyrinth of texture, replayability, and overall cohesion, it’s unfortunate that the songwriting on ‘Crash’ occasionally falls short. The mid-album guitar ballad ‘Better Not’ feels dated in its approach, with Kehlani cloyingly lamenting over heartbreak and wrongdoings. Sadly, this track is lukewarm at best.

Despite the occasional shaky cut, the songwriting excels in numerous spots across the album. The title track, ‘What I Want,’ and the Jill Scott and Young Miko collaboration ‘Sucia’ resonate barrels of confidence. Kehlani experiments across the crop of gems, incorporating a smattering of crystalline ballads, flirtatious rap detours, and rock riffs.

‘Crash’ reaffirms everything fans love about Kehlani. The record represents both the fragmented state of the artist’s life and the world at large. Positioned as an imperfect protagonist, Kehlani navigates poor decisions, steamy romantic encounters, and risk-taking inside and outside the booth. Fans are invited to waltz above the drama and take in the popcorn-worthy spectacle in all its unfiltered glory.

The short and well-paced tracklist is likely to leave fans yearning for more. If Kehlani aimed to create a collision of the soul and mind, for the most part, they succeeded.

8/10

Words: Niall Smith // @niallsmith28

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