Kelis Dishes Up Some Savory & Satisfying 'Food'

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A coin has two sides, and for Kelis, we can times that by ten. Case in point, as of recent the singer took time away from the microphone and decided to get her Julia Child on. A few years ago she took her beloved pastime of cooking and forged onto a personal venture to learn the craft of cuisine, earning credentials through Le Cordon Bleu, and later forming her very own catering company and line of savory sauces (aptly titled Feast). Expanding on that, this past February she landed the dual role of TV chef with her very own Cooking Channel show, Saucy & Sweet, allowing us to see that music isn't the only thing she's capable of serving up. So it's with little discretion that she'd have sustenance on the brain once she popped into the studio to assemble her sixth set. What comes out of the oven is Food, well, audibly so, as Kelis has crafted a spread where her two loves (and two of her many sides) collide, making for a delectable and nourishing motif for the soul.

It seems that Kelis has been building up to make a exploratory collective of this kind for some time as her career in itself has been akin to a buffet, where we've often needed open minds (and plates) to devour it all. From her 1999 debut, Kaleidoscope, we were formally introduced to her funky assorted flavorings and her unwavering stance to be verbally astute once she screamed "I hate you so much right now!" over the crunch space funk of the Neptunes on "Caught Out There", and ever since she's been liberally dancing to a tune only she hears. As a vagabond of the R&B world, she has taken us into the galaxy grazing pop-rock of 2001's (stupidly) shelved Wanderland, to the commercial yet nostalgic sugaring of 2003's Tasty, to the urban 'bossy' lady's anthem on 2006's Kelis Was Here, and back to the neon rave daze of 2010's David Guetta-assisted Flesh Tone. Wild rides they all were and Food is yet another relentless variation on the R&B theme. This time Kelis reaches back into R&B's roots, finding the comfort in soul and with a voice that already sounds like the scratches and pops of an old soul record, it's a wonder why she took so long to immerse herself among heaping helpings of bob and weave horns, gut bucket blues, and torchy soul testimonies, but the u-turn is what makes Food so satisfying right down to the last morsel.

Food's introductory single, "Jerk Ribs" (released last year) provided the clue that Kelis was once again trekking off the beaten path, this time stripping herself of electronica trappings and wading in the waters of Fela Kuti inspired Afrobeat jazz-soul. The fiber of Food continues to be awash in such familiar themes, adding in heady kisses of gospel, folk, and rock in the creases and grooves. Food is aided by the oddball soul techniques of TV On The Radio's David Sitek, who also urged Santigold, Oh Land, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs push a few envelopes. For Kelis it's no different, and though his presence is there across the 13-track set, he allows her ample room to roam and flourish upon her signature brazen touch. 

In a way, she sounds more at ease with dipping into the Southern fried batter of horns and guitar wails than she did with the electro-riot of Flesh Tone, and she keeps up with the "soul food" theme right down to the titles, whisking up fine-tuned metaphors on love and life as she huskily croons along. Her confessionals are less clawing, but stronger than ever as "Rumble" and its tumbling piano strikes are an obvious stab at ex-husband, rapper Nas, and their ungraceful separation, while she cautiously exposes her need to learn about herself outside of the gleam of the spotlight on the Dusty Springfield-esque "Runner".

When she's serene she is sublime. Frothing up '70s summer soul, "Floyd" sways in a hammock over a hissing lawn of baritone saxes, clarinets, and small squeals of church organs. Her Labi Saffe cover, "Bless The Telephone" is about as Joan Armatrading as you're going to get her to be, as she shares the intimate mood space with Sitek's TV On The Radio co-hort, Tunde Adebimpe. The suspended "Dreamer" has Kelis satellite around futuristic soul and tender strings, and she falls into its cushioning and savory souffle. 

She doesn't stay docile for long as she really lets the pots n' pans clang for the conniption fit that is "Cobbler", which is packed with scraps of several aural ideas (the Afrobeat leftovers of "Jerk Ribs" into a Latin-Jazz flourish of horns) that are baked together bubbling and sweet. She shows out further with the Blaxploitation film soundtrack escapee, "Hooch" and other highlight, "Friday Fish Fry" which rolls and rocks like a Southern thunderstorm, as it gushes over the washboard with druken hollering and Kelis' husky roar bringing things to a sizzling thunderclap crackle. 

As usual, it's difficult to call Kelis an "R&B artist" as she has always been consistently on the outskirts of the genre for her 15+ year career. Though Food plays into the hands of soul and gospel, and 'gets her back' into such a figurative state after hinting at it for years, categorizing it as such is quite a drawback. Food turns such soulful familiarity on its head by throwing a surrealistic gauze over it (I can't wait to hear what song will be radio friendly...) and it's devoid of the carbon copying of the classic soul revival that we've become accustomed to (and that became overcooked by the early part of the 2010s) and yes, its a heavy meal to consume due to its condensed richness, but still, you'll be wanting second helpings.

Aside from food being the fuel we all need to thrive and survive on, and music the art that is the nourishment to the mind and spirit, the two substances never fail to at consistently bringing people together. No matter the race, gender, religion, culture, or creed, food and music seem to always bury the hatchet on conflict as mouths are too full to slander, and the body is too occupied with the groove to retaliate. The strange alchemy of their combination is everything to be explored, and of course, consumed and it's evident that Kelis understands that, hence why her Food (the edible and the aural nourishment) offers that bond, that comfort, that magic that gathers all kinds to come and sit at the table to enjoy and listen without judgement. And to quote good ol' Shakespeare, if music be the food of love, well then Food needs to be played on and on and on.... 

Release Date: April 22, 2014

Purchase: iTunes | Amazon  || Stream: Spotify 

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