On Kelsey Lu's 'Blood', the journey matters more than the destination
Kelsey Lu is no stranger to movement. Having been raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, she ran away from her home in North Carolina at 18, leaving her parents and religion behind to pursue a career in the arts. But for all that Lu has travelled, she exudes a mesmeric stillness in person. Her recent performance in the YouTube series COLORS is a testament to how little she has to move to express so much – her feet rooted to the ground, she radiates power. Where this same stillness underpinned her first release in 2016, Church – a six-track EP recorded in one take, just Lu and her cello – Blood vibrates with energy. Still, a tension between the two remains. Or, rather, a marriage – on Blood, Lu spins epic drama out of introspection.
The sense of a journey both physical and emotional winds through much of Blood. Lu rails against stasis – “It’s easy for us to get trapped into one state of being or being comfortable in one place,” she told Billboard in a recent interview. The determined ‘Pushin Against The Wind’ conjures with its lush Spanish guitar an image of a Western-style voyage across the dust-blown desert and sets the scene for ‘Due West’, Blood’s sparkling, Skrillex-produced lead single. She remembers how she yearned, wide-eyed, for a new land: “Due west, I'm headed on this road / Due west, just cruise as far as I can go”. California takes on, in Lu’s mind, a mystical significance, a locus of change and freedom.
Despite the sense of eventual destination, Lu’s is not a sensibility linked to a single place. On ‘Atlantic’ it’s the ocean that skirts her home state of North Carolina that offers her hope of anointment, atonement and acceptance: “Jump into the Atlantic / when you’ve taken the pain of it all / Jump into the Atlantic / when you wanna heal it all”. After 10 years of careful mending, she has finally reconciled the difficult relationship she had with faith and her family. The East coast is as much a location of healing as the West is: on ‘Atlantic’ Lu seems to find a way to carry both places within her, and many more things than that besides.
The containment of multitudes is true not just for Kelsey’s sense of self but for the instrumentation and production on Blood too. The fertile, rich cello sound that wrapped around the roots of her 2016 EP Church still lies beneath much of Blood, but there’s much new growth here too. From the lush, quasi-Americana of ‘Pushin Against The Wind’ to the Jamie xx-produced ‘Foreign Car’ (a sensual subversion of the male gaze and female sexual power), Lu moves between genres like water. On ‘Poor Fake’, Lu’s characteristic strings blossom into a fecund bass-guitar-led groove, every bit as epic in scope as her songs about literal journeys – and as searching. She sings – perhaps in relation to a person, an opportunity, a place – “Listen, is this real? Or just a poor fake”. She always looking, questioning – “inspection is key”.
Although there’s a sense of destination on Blood, the coordinates shift continually. The focus is not so much on place, but on the myriad ways of getting there. Her acceptance of life as a perpetual quest is never clearer than on the album’s title track. She repeats her questions over and over, never pleading for answers, instead posing them rhetorically. ‘Who’s fed enough?’ she asks. Perhaps it’s not possible to find definitive answers no matter how far from home you travel, or how close to home you get, but when you’re a traveller as alert and as open as Kelsey Lu, maybe the beauty is in the journey.
Kelsey Lu ‘Blood’ is out now on Columbia Records.
@annaerichmond is The Tung’s Founder and Editor.