Kali Uchis’ music conjures a world of fantastical intimacy, and she knows how to tease us in. While the intro to her triumphant 2018 debut, Isolation, extended over two minutes, carrying an air of mystery and escapism, the track that opens her third album, Red Moon in Venus, is shorter but just as efficient: “I just wanted to tell you, in case you forgot/ I love you,” she intones, enveloped by twinkling synths, chirping crickets, and birdsong. Across the next fourteen tracks, Uchis remains firmly committed to that proclamation of love, though it pushes her in all sorts of different directions. The simple language of ‘in My Garden’ is immediately countered by the lead single ‘I Wish you Roses’, which is both thorny with metaphor and awash in tenderness: “My love’s deep as the ocean/ Don’t you drown on me/ Just know any love I gave you/ Is forever yours to keep,” she sings. It wonderfully embodies one of the many forms of love she longs to dive into on the record: “releasing somebody with love.”
Though more conceptually focused than Isolation and building on the promise of its Spanish-language follow-up Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞, the way the album revels in different shades of devotion makes for a lavish, enchanting journey. The Colombian American singer-songwriter has always coupled her reverence for the past with a penchant for experimentation, flitting effortlessly between styles while exploring her own kaleidoscopic vision. But her musical and vocal versatility – though definitely on display throughout Red Moon in Venus – isn’t the only thing that colours these songs and renders them unique. On ‘Love Between…’, she spins a song by the Temprees, trading “a boy and girl” to the more inclusive “two human beings” – and it’s her emphasis on that distinct phrasing, the way her voice gently floats up as she sings “can be so wonderful,” that makes the declaration less saccharine than mesmerizing in its earnestness. The instrumentation is so warm and luxuriant that it’s even harder to resist, even with the knowledge that no love can occupy that blissful space forever.
Red Moon in Venus overflows with what Uchis has called divine femininity, recognizing that it can transcend past trauma the same way she’s capable of transmuting old, beloved sounds. Sometimes its expression is forceful and confident, elsewhere it’s more subdued and vulnerable. The classic-sounding funk of ‘Endlessly’ allows her to bask under the warm glow of a love that feels, if only for a brief moment, eternal. “What if for now we just pretend the world don’t exist?” she offers on ‘All Mine’, its gorgeous layers presenting a richer and much more enticing alternative. This pure, dizzy infatuation stretches over to ‘Fantasy’, a duet with R&B singer and Uchis’ boyfriend Don Toliver that’s one of the most kinetic and upbeat highlights on the album; when the song cuts abruptly with Uchis saying, “That’s it, that’s the end of the song,” it’s hard to believe we’ve reached the standard length of a pop song, but Uchis still manages to make the jarring shift feel like an invitation: “Come on baby, let’s go home.”
There’s no dip in quality when Uchis rests in a more wistful, conflicted space. Against the hauntingly sublime backdrop of ‘Moral Conscience’, her vulnerability is all the more disarming: “I guess I was just lookin’ for the love no one’s showed me in my childhood,” she sings, complicating the song’s spiteful message of karmic retribution. The title of ‘Blue’ doesn’t even prepare you for just how grief-stricken Uchis sounds when she declares, “What’s the point of all the pretty things in the world if I don’t have you?” But even on first listen, the album’s emotional trajectory isn’t hard to trace. The Summer Walker-assisted ‘Deserve’ Me’, like the other well-placed collaborations on the LP, quickly serves to lift the mood, the interplay giving Uchis the freedom to stand her ground. When Red Moon in Venus‘ carefree spirit resurfaces on ‘Moonlight’, as uncomplicated and delightful as ever, it’s almost like it never fully materialized in the first place. Call it cosmic alignment or just personal fortitude, but love once again sparkles with possibilities – and this time, she knows exactly which ones are worth embracing into her world.