It's been awhile since we last heard from Kelis. She's come a long way since the days of the Neptunes produced "Milkshake," and she's moved between a few different labels. Her latest album, Food, is surprisingly (at least to this reviewer) on Ninja Tune. Surprising for a few reasons, least of which is that she started her career on Virgin before moving to Jive and then Interscope. What's catches you more off guard is the way that Kelis has remade herself on Food. It starts off with the soul inflected pop of "Breakfast" which flows nicely into "Jerk Ribs" and "Forever Be." Things slow down and get a little more abstract with "Floyd" and that is where producer David Sitek's hand becomes more apparent. The TV On The Radio producer brings a lot of the sonic qualities of his main project to Food. Guitar fed drones meet with crisp percussion while unconventional song structures unfold. This is a welcome change for Kelis, a singer who's been confined to conventional hip hop and R&B tropes for much of her career. Some might take it as Ninja Tune attempting a reverse Stones Throw, so to speak. The label is working with a major artist, one that's already broken through, and marrying her sound to the contemporary retro soul of artists like Mayer Hawthorne and Aloe Blacc. It becomes more apparent as the album moves through tracks like "Hooch" and "Friday Fish Fry." All of the right elements are there, but at times you're left thinking that Food doesn't sound like a Kelis record or a Ninja Tune record. It's all greatly helped along by the moments that Sitek takes things slightly off course. There's the slightly Elliot Smith-esque "Bless The Telephone," steeped in acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. And "Dreamer," the closing track, is an anthemic dirge that recalls some of the best moments from Beck's recent album. Food is a solid album from end to end that shows Kelis taking steps outside of what's expected. It will be interesting to see what she and Ninja Tune come up with in the future.
- music label: Ninja Tune 2014