There’s an ineffable quality to Kali Uchis’ music that makes it so intoxicating. It’s not just her heavenly voice or the ethereal instrumentation that backs it, but some combination of the two that creates a spellbinding experience. Uchis has always bewitched listeners with her hypnotic sound, but she’s become increasingly skillful at creating entire projects that feel like one long, hazy dream—and her third studio album, Red Moon in Venus (2023), is the most mesmerizing yet.
The Colombian-American singer is used to having both feet in different worlds. While putting together Red Moon, she’s also been working on another album in order to preserve each one’s respective musical consistency. “The way that I work, some days I might wake up and be like, ‘Oh, I want to make a song like this,’” Uchis told Vogue. “Obviously, singing between two languages, I didn’t want to limit myself. I ended up basically working on these two projects around the same time. Because it was like, if I made a song that made sense for one project, I would just put it on that.”
The result is a meticulously curated, 15-track album without a single note that feels out of place—even the less impressive songs meet her high caliber of musicality despite their lyrical shortcomings. Uchis effortlessly switches between her enchantingly airy falsetto and her smooth, syrupy lower register, taking her listeners through her ostensibly limitless vocal range. She seamlessly blends English and Spanish lyrics, best exemplified by her ability to rhyme between them on “Hasta Cuando”: “’Cause now that I’m doin’ good, livin’ like a queen / Dices que yo la vida te la jodí / It’s sad that you’re still obsessed, keep lyin’ on me.” Backed by whimsical synths and a funky drum beat, Uchis uses her delicate head voice to playfully declare that her ex’s incessant shit-talking is because he’s still consumed by her. Then, on the bridge, her voice gets lower and the pace quickens as she digs into him, adding that even his current girlfriend is obsessed: “Your girl talks shit about me just to feel better … At the end of the day, she’d eat my pussy if I let her.” The shift from a lighthearted tone to a no-holds-barred roast of her ex demonstrates Uchis’ ability to deftly maneuver without missing a beat.
The sonic consistency of the album complements its thematic throughline: her vulnerable musings about love in all its forms. “I always had a very warped sense of what love is,” Uchis told Pitchfork, adding that the album is about “love, obviously, but all the different aspects of love—whether it be releasing somebody with love, calling love into your life, or self-love.” She navigates all of these types of love on “Moonlight”—she acknowledges her own beauty when she sings, “Veo una muñeca cuando miro en el espejo,” and she brings this confidence into her relationship with the double meaning of “I just wanna get high with my lover,” expressing both a desire to enjoy a drug-induced haze together and to grow together as they “go to the moon.” The groovy bassline interspersed with twinkling sounds creates a completely immersive listening experience that brings us on her celestial journey.
From its first few notes, Red Moon seduces the listener into entering its fantasy realm. The 25-second intro track “in My Garden” opens the album with what sounds like crickets twittering as Uchis whispers, “Hello, can you hear me? I just want to tell you, in case you forgot, I love you.” She lures us in and eases the transition with the next song, lead single “I Wish you Roses.” Birds chirp while a suspenseful synth builds until the deep bass comes in with Uchis’ angelic vocal. She tenderly bids farewell to a significant other without the bitterness that often accompanies a breakup, shedding this weight from the outset so that she can gingerly traverse through her garden.
Although she discusses a relationship ending in “I Wish you Roses,” Uchis also introduces the distinctly feminine energy that propels her journey through the album. Singing that her “petals are soft and silky” but her lover can still “get pricked by the thorns,” she subverts the overused metaphor of a flower representing a woman’s frailty to instead signify that she can be feminine while still protecting herself and her heart. “A lot of my work revolves around self-empowerment and femininity,” Uchis told Pitchfork. “That’s how I learned to heal and found myself.”
Uchis reckons with the duality of mourning a relationship and reclaiming her identity on her collaboration with Summer Walker, “Deserve Me.” Opening with discordant synth notes that are later backed by a heavy bass drum and echoey sounds, this song has a more dystopian feel within her otherwise warm and inviting musical realm. It’s also the angriest track as the two women express resentment towards an ex who made them undervalue themselves. Uchis makes sure that the guy in question knows what he’s lost when she sings, “Do you know how many motherfuckers want this pussy exclusively? / You ain’t the only one tryna be the only one.” Of course, this amount of spite only remains while the breakup wounds are still fresh. Walker explicitly addresses this internal tug-of-war on her verse; even though she knows she deserves to be treated much better, she admits, “I think I just might fuck you one last time to be sure.”
Though Red Moon has many collaborators—three out of 15 tracks feature other vocalists, and another one is produced by “Darkchild” Rodney Jerkins—they all humbly enter Kali’s world, bringing their own sounds without overstepping. Her frequent collaborator Omar Apollo appears on “Worth the Wait,” and makes his presence known from the opening notes of groovy electric guitar and his breathy head voice that marry beautifully with Uchis’ delicate vocals.
On “Fantasy,” Uchis picks up the pace with a danceable percussive beat, and Don Toliver’s deep voice contrasts her light falsetto. This track and Darkchild collaboration “Endlessly” are the most pop-leaning, as Uchis sings right in the pocket of the instrumentation instead of exercising her signature unpredictable, free-flowing lyricism. But both tracks—especially the latter—boast catchy choruses and upbeat musicality that make them fun reprieves from the sedation that Uchis has lulled us into.
Because of their sonic similarity, songs with unextraordinary lyricism don’t leave much of an impression. The lyrics on “Love Between…” and “All Mine” fall short of Uchis’ characteristically clever writing, creating saccharinely one-note lines that don’t do much besides make nebulous claims about the joy of being in love. “Como Te Quiero Yo” has a similar feel, except its lyrics are in English and Spanish, which adds a layer of depth; but her gratuitous moaning in the background creates some discomfort while listening. “Happy Now” is a disappointingly trite closing track on which Uchis tries to tie up the emotional turmoil she just traversed into a neat little bow, repeating, “Can we be happy now? / I wanna be happy now.” Her unique tone and the cultivation of sounds to fit in her sonic world save these tracks from being skips—they just don’t live up to the impossibly high bar Uchis has set on the rest of Red Moon.
Uchis burns brightest when she doesn’t shy away from feelings that are difficult to confess. “Not Too Late (interlude)” has a slow-groove beat and effortless vocal runs in English that contrast the rap-like flow she hits in Spanish while she asks her love interest to come back to her: “No, I’m not your type, you can be honest / But it’s not too late to admit you love me.” On “Moral Conscience,” the arpeggiated percussion and background whistling create an enjoyable listening experience all on their own, so when Uchis comes in with her full vocal range on display, we become completely immersed in her rageful lyrics that warn, “I hope you know when karma comes ‘round, knockin’ down on your door / She’s comin’ to collect.”
By the time we get to the end of the album, Uchis has shown us every inch of her musical fantasy world without keeping us there a minute too long. The waves that play us out seamlessly transition into the opening sounds of crickets chirping, tempting her listeners to begin the journey again. But be warned: the red moon may keep you spellbound longer than you expect.
VOICE’S CHOICES: Hasta Cuando, Fantasy (feat. Don Toliver), Not Too Late (interlude)