Kali Uchis – Red Moon In Venus

Despite Colombian singer Kali Uchis still chasing the peak in quality she achieved on her debut album, 2018’s Isolation, her commercial breakthrough actually happened when she decided to fully embrace her Spanish-language roots on her sophomore effort, the dreamy track “telepatia” breaking through to the radio waves. Apparently sitting on two finished albums, one in English and one in Spanish, at the start of the year, Uchis has elected to release the English one first – though the sound more closely resembles the laid-back, vibe-heavy stylings of her previous offering than the punchy pop-soul of her debut. Uchis has clearly been working on honing this sound in her time away, delivering moments that are even more hypnotic than before, dialing up the production value and leaning into her vocal sweet spots. The finished product is still missing the memorable melodies and attention-grabbing lyricism that I fell in love with on her debut, but as an immersive experience to get lost in, Red Moon In Venus succeeds.

After a brief, spoken intro, the well-chosen lead single “I Wish you Roses” opens the proceedings, Uchis immediately hitting a great, soaring melody before dropping back to her breathier tones to round it out. Coming equipped with a nice extended metaphor of Uchis as the rose amidst the weeds, thorns and bees, the track finds her willing to offer as much love as she can while the two are together, just in case the worst comes to pass. As the goosebump-inducing falsetto runs on the back end fade it out, it serves as the first in a long line of absolutely dedicated and tender tunes talking about how lucky she is to have found her partner on this project. While that partner does appear later, the following track is instead a duet with a repeat collaborator in Omar Apollo on “Worth The Wait.” While I love Uchis embracing the energy of another collaborator in Bootsy Collins, punctuating her romantic affirmations with suave spoken asides, Apollo’s chorus honestly feels a little off – his borderline atonal harmonies might have been interesting in another context, but doesn’t fit as well with the album’s idyllic vibe. The transition into the excellent “Love Between…” is seamless, however, as the backdrop gets a little funkier and Uchis is at her most believably lovestruck, stepping back and marvelling at the obvious on the chorus: “Love between two human beings can be so wonderful.” Layering some complex harmonies on top of herself as she just iterates on the word “happy” and throwing in some striking jazzy note choices, no other track proves just how lost in love she must be more.

If Uchis paints herself as a rose on this project, the track “All Mine” sees some of her thorns come out for the first time – the first verse sees her getting jealous for a brief second, before reminding herself of just who she is and taking the time to mock those who think there’s even a slight chance of breaking up the union she’s created. “You couldn’t keep him even if I gave him to you” is a mic-drop moment, but the instrumental still reflects the “frolicking-through-the-garden-of-Eden” attitude with some descending harps and live percussion bolstering the dreamy atmosphere. Uchis has really discovered a great middle ground that lets her airy tones shine, mixed well enough to still come through with some more powerful sounds and melodies. “Hasta Cuando” continues with the attitude on a rap verse addressing an ex jealous of her success, Uchis threatening to steal HIS girl on a track full of speedier lines and fun-loving vocal flips. The man of the hour, Uchis’ partner Don Toliver, finally appears on “Fantasy,” but it’s honestly another guest chorus that doesn’t quite land for me – the happy couple are clearly incredible together, but their musical union has never been the greatest match in the world. Toliver’s vocals are so sharp and distinctive that they take me out of the dreamy world, and the track ends abruptly, though Uchis continues to do what she does best over an instrumental with a slight Afrobeats edge. “Como Te Quiero Yo” rounds out the first half with a slower ballad, Uchis talking about the couple being able to work through their issues on one of the most X-rated tracks here.

Uchis manages to recruit quite a few big names to help out behind the boards here, from WondaGurl to Cashmere Cat and Sounwave, but you can tell when an absolute veteran like Rodney Jerkins joins the party on the track “Endlessly.” Easily the best produced song here with quite a few options to choose from, you’d think that Thundercat was on the track with the impressive bass going on in the background filling out the complxex instrumental. Both the bass and the percussion are mixed right up at the front, but still giving space for the project’s best melody to shine as well. Adding some horn stabs as Uchis runs through some of her creative melodic moments, it’s the slight disco injection the album needed. “Moral Conscience” had a tough act to follow, and it’s really the first track here that doesn’t feel essential – it’s a highly cohesive album, mostly seeing Uchis able to vary it enough along the journey, but this one feels like we’ve heard it done better earlier on – plus, there’s a bit of an awkward moment when Uchis reaches for a highly ambitious note that she doesn’t quite nail. The “Not Too Late” interlude contains another great rap verse, this time in Spanish, as Uchis iterates on a playfully confident line, before “Blue” takes things into a bit more of a smoky and subdued territory. It’s all the better for it – it’s cool to have a new musical angle as Uchis contemplates giving up her lavish lifestyle if it means keeping the relationship.

As the album progresses to its final moments, a guest appearance from Summer Walker on “Deserve Me” goes over as the best of the bunch – the instrumental helps more than its predecessors to build a bridge between the two artists’ musical worlds, as a massive, echoing trap beat is thrown on top of some innovative music box-esque production. Walker has a bit more of a forceful and forward tone to complement Uchis’ nicely, but the two have an equal amount of soul. “Moonlight” dials up the funk one last time for a track reminiscent of “After The Storm,” one of her biggest singles, before “Happy Now” closes things out with a bright and cheery tone leaving things on an upbeat note.

For the astrologically challenged out there (myself included), the album’s title is meant to reflect “a timeless, burning expression of desire, heartbreak, faith and honestly, reflecting the divine femininity of the moon and Venus.” I think Uchis certainly managed to achieve that with this collection of tracks, and she continues to establish herself as a multifaceted figure to watch closely – it will be interesting to see if the Spanish-language counterpart drops this year as well.

Favourite Tracks: Endlessly, I Wish you Roses, Love Between…, All Mine, Hasta Cuando

Least Favourite Track: Fantasy

Score: 7/10


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